When it comes to optometry, we think it’s fair to say that many of us have an image in our minds of what the field really looks like - usually working in a retail environment, with long hours, busy weekend shifts and striving to meet sales targets.

But for those of us who work in domiciliary eye healthcare, the reality of the day-to-day is quite different. Away from the stresses and strains of high street optometry, working in domiciliary can present a whole new lifestyle and working environment, in an area which many might not have previously considered.

Domiciliary care is a sector of optometry that is often overlooked or misunderstood, and myths abound as to what’s really involved. But for the people who choose to swap traditional retail optometry for care in a domiciliary setting, they say it’s the best decision they ever made, for their careers and for their home lives too.

Visioncall is one of the UK’s leading providers of domiciliary eye care, with a nationwide network of local clinicians able to visit hundreds of care homes the length and breadth of the country, directed from the company’s central Glasgow hub. Visioncall specialises in helping care home residents see better, and as a result, live better, fuller, happier lives.

We spoke to a range of Visioncall’s optometrists and dispensers, who all came to domiciliary from a retail background, about what makes it such a rewarding career choice, and why they’d never switch back.

Many optometrists and dispensers have never considered, or even learned of domiciliary eye care before, which was certainly the case for several of Visioncall’s team. “I’d been working in an optical lab for 20 years, and I’d never heard of domiciliary before Visioncall reached out to me,” explains Linda Dent, a dispenser based in the North-East of England who joined Visioncall in 2019. “I just thought people went into the opticians, got their eyes tested and that was it.”

Fellow dispenser Emma James, who’s located in Hampshire, was in a similar situation: “I was with a high-street retail optician for almost a decade when Visioncall got in touch. I’d never even heard of domiciliary before, but Visioncall offered me a ‘shadow day’ with their team to see what it was like, so I thought ‘why not?’.”

For others, it helped to know somebody who had already made the move into the sector, as was the case with optometrist Aman Purewal, and Visioncall’s Clinical Director Phil Kelly.

“10 years ago, I worked at a high street laser eye surgery provider, and I never felt comfortable with the pressure of selling surgery and then not being able to provide aftercare,” says Aman. “A colleague left to join Visioncall, and I went for a shadow day on his recommendation. I instantly felt comfortable, it just clicked for me.”

Phil agrees: “I was working at a leading high street optician, and I was becoming frustrated with the lack of emphasis on patient care; it was always a numbers game. I knew someone who was working with Visioncall, and they recommend I try it. I’ve now been here for 15 years.”

Shadow days

For much of Visioncall’s staff, the unusual offer of a no-obligation ‘shadow day’ was the turning point in discovering a love for domiciliary care. The shadow days allow interested professionals to join a team as they go about their usual rounds in care homes, to get a hands-on feel for the job that enables them to make an informed decision. For many, it’s seeing the difference that their work can make to a care home resident that clinches the deal.

Optometrist Sarab Laute explains: “Lots of optometrists have misconceptions about what domiciliary is and how it works, but it’s nothing like what you’ve heard. To properly understand it, the shadow days are invaluable, so I’d encourage anyone to give them a try.”

“The shadow day completely bowled me over,” says dispensing optician Jemma Williams. “I got a great feeling from being with the team, seeing the work they do with vulnerable patients. I really liked the environment, and it gave me a sense of worth that I actually could help these patients that are suffering with conditions like dementia or Parkinson's. The shadow day is a great way to test the waters.”

Changing lives

The sense of emotional fulfilment is a common thread when it comes to domiciliary care, with many stating that it’s the biggest perk of the job. In a sector where patients can be unpredictable, non-communicative or struggling with difficult conditions, the challenge of performing an accurate sight test and prescribing correct treatment is something that can keep even the most seasoned professional on their toes – and for many, it’s the part of the job that presents the most reward.

“In my previous role, I just made the glasses, and I never knew how they benefitted somebody,” says Linda. “But patients get a new lease of life when those glasses go on, and their whole physical wellbeing changes instantly. Unless you’ve witnessed it, it’s something you can’t appreciate. It brings tears to my eyes; it never ceases to amaze me.”

Emma agrees: “You get to change someone’s life, and who wouldn’t want to do that? It’s the best feeling in the world.”

For Sarab, it’s the challenge of relying on different skills and knowledge to tailor the care that makes domiciliary so interesting: “Domiciliary is optometry at its fundamental level. Not all of your patients can tell you about their symptoms or history, so you are reliant on your clinical judgement. You don’t always have an OCT scanner, so you use the skills you learned at university in terms of testing. These are skills we all have that, when working in practice, we sometimes think we’ve forgotten, but they very quickly come back to you. Interacting with some of the most vulnerable people in society and knowing that you can help them is a really nice feeling, the job satisfaction is second to none.”

Work-life balance

But it’s not just job satisfaction that makes domiciliary optometry so appealing – it’s the dramatic improvement in work-life balance that many members of the team appreciate so much.

“If you have a family and want to prioritise your time with them, you can do that,” explains Aman. “We don’t work at the weekends at Visioncall, which is a huge thing and creates a great work-life balance.”

Time at home with the family was also hugely important to Sarab: “The lifestyle aspect of working Monday-Friday with weekends off was a big draw. I've got a couple of kids who I love spending time with, so being off when they’re off is a big bonus.”

“Not having to work weekends is a major benefit of domiciliary dispensing,” says Jemma. “There’s a lot more flexibility here that I didn’t even know was available in optics when I worked in practice. I just couldn’t go back to in-practice dispensing now. I had fallen out of love with optics, but the patients and the Visioncall team helped me to rediscover my love for it.”

To find out more about careers at Visioncall, visit jobs.vision-call.co.uk.