It does seem a long time ago for me now, but I can distinctly remember the pressures I had upon me to find a placement for my pre-registration period. It wasn’t just the requirement to have one upon finishing university that put that pressure on me, but it was the constant talk from my peers (many of which had either been offered a placement from where they used to work as an optical assistant or a dispensing optician) and the constant pressure from the multiples to be applying for a position before I’d even worked out where I want my optometry degree to take me.
Your pre-registration period must be right for you. This blog post looks in to some of the ways that you can work out where you want to work in the future and how best to secure a position.
Most of the large chains (such as Boots, Specsavers and Vision Express) are known to take on a clear majority of pre-registration students as they have numerous stores around the country that can vacancy for new members of staff and have additional staff available to supervise and train you. Additionally, the multiples do put in a lot of funding and effort into developing their own programmes within their company to help you maximise your learning to complete your pre-registration period and the subsequent OSCE examinations. There is often a very high pass-rate associated with this training, but you may be tied in to a contract with them for a few years post-qualification.
My first experience with the multiples came from in-university visits; both on our social “cheese and wine” evenings and from interview sessions that occurred within our university timetables themselves. Many have corporate application forms, structured interviews and psychometric testing to make sure that you are the right candidate for them. I also found that their application deadlines are very early, often occurring at the end of the first semester of your second year. It is worth baring this in mind if you do want a different pre-reg (such as hospital or independent) as these may be worth applying for as a back-up option, should no pre-reg opportunity arise in your preferred mode of practice.
The multiples are also good for the additional experience that they can provide, with many offering summer school placements over the summer, which allows you to work within the store you are looking to work in. This is a very good opportunity to see how a multiple works (especially if you are like I was and had never set foot in one) and to meet your supervisor and supporting team. It is a very good way to see if you click with your supervisor and will give you a chance to see if this pre-reg placement will work for you.
The hospital placements are a rare commodity, with very few placements available across the country. Bare in mind that you will not only be competing for places with your university peers, but with all optometry students across the country. Understandably, this can make them difficult to obtain. The kind of student they will be looking for will be those who can demonstrate solid understanding of the role and pass their degree with a high grade (many cases seen in the optometry department are relatively complex compared to the high-street setting and can provide quite a challenge).
You will also need to bare in mind that few hospital departments do not have an optical dispensary, so you will often be required to go to a local high-street optician to meet the dispensing requirements of the pre-registration programme.
Historically, you would have to apply for a hospital placement through JCL Consulting, who would handle the recruitment process. However, of recent years, too few hospitals have pre-registration vacancies to make it viable to run, so applications since 2017 have been via contacting the hospitals individually.
Independent optometry is where I find I have excelled in and despite undertaking a summer school placement with a multiple, circumstances changed, and I decided upon an independent practice to work with. It is hard to generalise how your pre-registration period will be as independent practice can vary from place to place, but from my experience as a qualified optometrist, you will often find that you have longer testing times (not necessarily a good thing if you are looking to speed up your routine!), a closer working relationship between your supervisor and team and usually less of a demand on targets. I’d highly recommend seeing if you can obtain some work experience with the independent practice you have in mind to see how they work and how a pre-reg position may work, but keep in mind that not all independent practices are in the position to offer a placement.
Applying can occur in several ways. Most will be through a prospective letter and a copy of your CV, but others may post vacancies via Prospect Health, the AOP website and College of Optometrists’ jobs listing (along with some last-minute vacancies from the multiples).
University Eye Clinic
Most universities have an eye clinic that also offers dispensing and usually they can take on one student to complete a pre-registration with them. This has the benefit of being familiar with your surroundings, not having to move too far away from your university town and many universities have an abundance of patients that will help you pass some of the most difficult competences.
Applications do differ between the universities (see you eye clinic manager for more details) and competition for this position can also be high.
As you can see, there are many pre-registration periods out there for you to apply for and, although a stressful time, there is enough out there for graduating optometry students. Personally, I would advise keeping your options open, as securing a position in one place doesn’t mean you have to take it if another, more suitable one is eventually found. Take the time to see what modality is right for you and concentrate the efforts on trying to secure the one you want, but make sure you don’t close all opportunities – independent practice was third on my list and is the mode I ended up working in… which is now my preferred way of working.