This last month has been incredibly busy, both in and away from practice. We had the huge annual PAC conference in Birmingham, which thousands of practitioners attended, catching up with colleagues, who they may not have seen for many years. I’m sure many anecdotes were shared during face to face conversations and a lot of learning will have been gained from the conversations outside the lectures as well as from the lecturers themselves.

As a member of our LOC, I am also fortunate to see viewpoints from a range of practice settings and was lucky to be able to attend the NOC this year, which was a great night and day of meeting up with colleagues (some whom I hadn’t seen for a long time) and listening to speakers in the workshops and presentations. The time I spent there was invaluable to see the whole of optometry coming together and working with one purpose, to advance the profession both in the public eye and for the profession as a whole.

My work at the local ophthalmology department in the hospital allows me to build relationships with ophthalmologist colleagues who I know I can turn to if we need advice on any of our more complex cases in practice and who will support me with any training and development needs. Sometimes it is as simple as making contact with them to see how they want us to interpret the new NICE guidelines in our optometry practices.

Life seems to get so busy nowadays and in practice there is always something to occupy us. We rarely make the time to catch up and have work-based conversations with colleagues, yet when we are actually forced into the situation of taking time away from practice, the conversations we strike up can sometimes give us the lightbulb moment to solutions to small issues that have been troubling us for many months. Sometimes conversations together in the car or on the train to meetings will give us a different perspective when we are away from the routine of normal practice.

As directors of our business we have got the annual Partners Seminar this month, which gives us the chance to catch up with colleagues as well as be addressed by keynote speakers and attend various workshops throughout the day. Taking time out for such events from busy practices pays dividends even when we feel we should be in practice. The value of face to face time with our peers should never be underestimated. The benefit that we gain from speaking to colleagues often far outweighs the lack of input into our businesses on the day. In fact, often the things we learn from each other’s experiences just in small conversations over coffee breaks and mealtimes are worth their weight in gold to take back and use in the running of our businesses.

This also applies in practice with our colleagues. I do find it is so important to make time even in busy practices to have that conversation with a colleague. The time we invest can be invaluable to the success of the practice and particularly to the colleague’s career progression. This was evident when we introduced peer discussion to our professional practice team. Initially, practitioners were wary of having to contribute and get more involved in learning; however, over the years it has probably become one of the most popular forms of training and one which keeps everyone engaged.

An optometrist once commented to me that having come from a small independent practice where they were often the sole practitioner, to a large practice, where there were always several optometrists to speak with about a complicated case, was something that they hadn’t appreciated until they experienced it. I hadn’t thought about it before as by gradually building the practice from just myself to multiple consulting rooms running at once, I hadn’t actually seen a sudden change. It took someone coming in with a fresh set of eyes to point it out.

We have, this week, seen our pre-registration optometrist graduate with her college ceremony as a fully-qualified practitioner (we now await the List number). It’s good that the newly-qualified practitioners can get together and catch up with colleagues at the same stage of their career journey and celebrate a hard year’s work together. They have spent the past 12 to 18 months at the same stage, catching up at the various training events that we hold for them and comparing their experiences of a stressful period of ongoing assessments. Hopefully they will have forged good, long-lasting relationships with one another that they will be able to tap into throughout their careers. It always surprises me what a small world optometry is – 30 years post-qualifying I am still in contact with many of the colleagues I studied with. And despite optometry having seen considerable exciting changes over those years, we don’t consider that we have changed. I hope the same applies for these newly qualified optometrists in the next 30 years!

Judy Lea is optometrist director of Specsavers, Longton, Staffordshire.