At 18, Ella Creighton was one of the youngest candidates to complete Specsavers’ Level 4 optical dispensing course – which she studied alongside the company’s EOS (enhanced optical services) Diploma.
Here Ella, now 19, tells Spectrum about the training opportunities she’s been offered and the career path she’s set her sights on.
Ella Creighton hadn’t considered an optical career when, aged 15, she got a Saturday job in Specsavers’ Chichester store.
She says: ‘At the time, my plan was to study biomedical science at college. But I decided the Specsavers courses were more suited to my interests. At 17, I joined the store full time.’
The directors, Mohammed Said and Bishoy Salib, suggested Ella should do Specsavers’ Cert 3 course, for ophthalmic dispensing assistants, and she agreed immediately.
‘I really enjoyed the course,’ she says. ‘I found the contact lens element interesting and also enjoyed lens form and the anatomy of the eye.
‘After completing the course in seven months, I decided I wanted to continue studying and ultimately become an optometrist.’
When Ella said she was interested in Specsavers’ Cert 4 course (BTEC Level 4 Certificate in Optical Dispensing), Mohammed and Bishoy encouraged her to go for it.
She says: ‘I did a blended learning programme with online study materials, workplace activities and online assessments. I also went to London for assessments and three workshops led by Specsavers tutors.’
She found Cert 4 more challenging than the first course. ‘There was more maths in it and some of it, like Snell’s Law [the law of refraction], was quite hard,’ she says. ‘But I got lots of help when I needed it and enjoyed the challenge.’
Ella found that Cert 4 developed her knowledge and skills, helped her solve problems in the workplace, and increased her confidence. She says: ‘When a patient came in with a varifocal problem, I would know how to work it out more efficiently and be confident in doing so.’
Last summer, she became part of the first cohort to start the EOS Diploma course – while still studying for Cert 4 and working full time.
She says: ‘I started the EOS Diploma in July 2018 and finished Cert 4 in December, aged 18, so there was a six-month crossover.
‘I’m one of the youngest candidates to complete Cert 4. I surprised myself a bit as I never expected to do two courses alongside each other. It was a challenge and a lot of work, but I quite enjoyed it.’
She says: ‘The Diploma is mostly distance learning but there are also some face-to-face workshops. I’ve already attended three in London and there are three more in Birmingham.’
Devised by Specsavers’ Professional Training and Development team, the 18-month course leads to a BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Healthcare Science – a nationally recognised qualification approved by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
The course is designed to upskill clinical assistants working in stores with EOS contracts and Newmedica clinics. Although Chichester currently only offers private MECS (minor eye conditions services), they hope to secure an NHS contract in the future.
Ella, who is now at Stage 2 of the Diploma programme, says it is already proving useful in her role. ‘Part of my assessment was learning how to instil dilation drops. I use that quite a lot and it’s helpful as it makes waiting times quicker.’
The diploma course in ophthalmic dispensing is next on her list. Although she won’t complete the EOS Diploma until February 2020, she is hoping to start the FBDO (Fellowship of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians) study programme in September 2019.
As Specsavers’ Cert 4 course is recognised as an alternative to the first year of the dispensing course,she will be able to go straight into the second year, becoming a fully-qualified dispensing optician in two years rather than three.
After that, she hopes to do an optometry degree.
Ella believes the work-based training she’s receiving at Specsavers suits her better than following a traditional academic route to her chosen career. ‘I enjoyed studying at school, but I enjoy it more now,’ she says. ‘I find the style of learning more relaxed and I like having people to help me in the workplace.’
She says she’s changed since joining Specsavers. ‘I’ve grown up a bit since then and become more focused and ambitious. Doing the courses has made me a lot more interested in learning, and having more knowledge makes me more confident in the workplace.’
She’s also impressed by the support and encouragement she’s received from the store. She says: ‘Specsavers Chichester has been amazing in helping me pursue my ultimate goal of becoming an optometrist.’
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