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Katia Stewart

Katia Stewart Project Officer

Be Inspired Series

Sharon Wallace


While studying for her degree at Cardiff University, Sharon held a part-time job with Optical Express. She has worked for Ultralase for almost three years, first in its Cardiff Clinic and the last two years in its Belfast clinic

What does your job entail?

I work as an optometrist for Ultralase, Belfast. My main roles within the company are to assess a patient's suitability for refractive surgery through extensive eye examinations, to advise patients on the treatment option that is best suited to their eyes and to provide follow-up care, post treatment.
It is a very patient-centred role and it is important to the overall procedure that all patients receive the highest level of care when they choose Ultralase. It's something which makes me very proud.

What do you do day-to-day?

I typically see around five patients per day for consultations, and in between times I see patients for follow-up care. Of course, every day and every patient is different so I'm rarely having the same conversation twice.

How did you get into this line of work?

I was attracted to Ultralase as a company, as they specialised in refractive surgery, and was successful in my application for optometrist in Ultralase, Cardiff. Refractive surgery is a very rewarding sector within optometric practice. For many patients, refractive surgery is a life-changing experience and it's great to be part of that. I see patients from the initial consultation, all the way through follow-up care, to discharge.

What previous experience did you have?

My first job as a fully qualified optometrist was with Optical Express, where I'd had my initial work experience as an optical assistant and worked for my pre-registration year. The role was mobile and I worked in several clinics throughout the group, mainly in Cardiff, Bristol and Cheltenham.

After four years of working at Optical Express, I decided to branch out into locum work and experience other companies. I carried out most of my locum work in Specsavers but also had a few days in Tesco Opticians. My time away from laser surgery made me realise how much I enjoyed that aspect of optometric practice.

I applied for a role as laser optometrist in Ultralase, Cardiff and have been working within the Ultralase group ever since.

Presumably there is a fair bit of training to becoming an optometrist?

While studying for my degree at Cardiff University, I held a part-time job with Optical Express. I subsequently went on to work there full-time through my pre-registration year. Post qualification I was selected for laser training and practiced as a specialist laser optometrist.

I found the laser side of the business particularly rewarding, and decided to focus my career path in this field. In January 2008, Ultralase was acquired by a company called 3i, who set about rapid expansion and growth of the company. As a result, three acquisitions were made in Ireland -- Belfast, Cork and Waterford.

I became involved with staff training during the transition period in Belfast and subsequently assumed a full-time position as optometrist in Ultralase at the Allclear Clinic in Belfast.

Were you always interested in optometry?

I was always keen to do a vocational degree. Optometry attracted me for several reasons. It allowed me to work within the medical world without enduring a lengthy degree. I didn't want a desk job, and felt working with the public would be both interesting and rewarding.

So far it has lived up to my expectations and it is incredibly satisfying to see a patient after their surgery, as they have often experienced a huge change to their lives.

What makes working in your industry interesting and challenging?

Every patient entering the clinic has a different reason for wanting refractive surgery. It's interesting to hear what difficulties and challenges people face as a result of refractive error, and how refractive surgery has enabled them to overcome these problems. It's always difficult when patients are found to be unsuitable for laser surgery, but with advances in intraocular lens surgery through artificial lens implants and phakic lens exchange, there is usually a treatment option for everyone.

What qualities are needed for your role?

Obviously I deal a lot with the public so I need to be able to establish a rapport and trust with patients. This is mutually beneficial as it helps me to understand their needs and expectations, while making them feel at ease.

As there is quite a bit of technology involved in the process of laser eye surgery, I need to be able to talk in simple terms about how the surgery works and help the patients to understand what we do.
Professionally I need to be organised and keep myself up-to-date on progressions in the various fields of optometry. Not only is this good for the company as a whole, it also ensures that we are all working as best we can. You definitely have to be a people person to work in this industry. Communication skills are key. I must be able to explain to patients of all abilities what is involved with refractive surgery, advise regarding expectations, highlighting the benefits and also the risks.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Without a doubt my passion is travel! I'm always gallivanting somewhere, whether it's a week in the sun, a city break or just a weekend away with friends. I love seeing new places and keep journals of all my travels as well as countless photographs! To keep fit I play for a local badminton club.
My roots are from a rural community, and I was an active member of Coleraine Young Farmers' Club. I still take an interest in the club and remain an associate member. I am a people person, and enjoy going out with my friends, and spending time with my family.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I spent three months touring rural Ontario in Canada as part of a Young Farmers' exchange.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

My parents. I've always had support and encouragement from my mum and dad in everything I do. They have given me the confidence to strive forward in my career, and are there for me every step of the way.

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