International Women’s Day – Donna and Emma share their story

On International Women’s Day we’re celebrating inspirational women in business, who chose to challenge ten years ago –  and now own and run Specsavers practices in Northern Ireland. 

Omagh born optometrist Donna Harbison and dispensing optician Emma Finn, originally from South Wales this year mark ten years of patient care at Specsavers in Omagh town centre.

The hard-working duo look back at a fast-paced decade of optical and more recently audiology services and look forward to future years running their successful practice which employs 19 staff.

Donna Harbison is one of four sisters. Working in the health profession was on the cards from a very early age: ‘I researched lots of different health careers and optometry really appealed to me as whilst it was a very specialised subject, it provided a range of flexible career options.’

After attending the local Loreto primary and grammar schools, Donna undertook an optometry degree at the Ulster University before graduating in 2002. Post- graduation, it was while she was working in Coleraine for Specsavers that she met her husband Dean. 

‘Dean and I got married in October 2005 and at that point I made the decision to run my own optometry business. I’d loved working in Specsavers and felt it was a great company to be involved with. I was delighted when I was offered a directorship of the soon to be opened Omagh Specsavers store. I was introduced to my new store partner Emma and it was the start of a fantastic and rewarding journey for both of us.’

‘I’m really proud to be back practising in my home town and I love the familiarity that comes with being local. Our staff come from the Omagh and Tyrone area and so many of our patients are local. I feel lucky to have been given this opportunity in the town where I was born and bred, but of course I couldn’t have done it all without the support of my husband Dean, my parents Michael and Goretti and sisters Julie, Louise and Michelle.’

Now with her own young family of three, Donna admits the last ten years have been so busy both personally and professionally they have gone by in a flash. ‘Emma and I have a great partnership and we have lots in common especially managing a young family alongside running an optometry practice.

Emma Finn picks up the story: ‘ Specsavers can bring people together who don’t necessarily know each other. Each have different skills and expertise and it really does result in successful and dynamic partnerships’

After taking a gap year Emma Finn had a six-year stint at her local Specsavers store in South Wales and during this period trained as a dispensing optician. It was a tough three-year distance learning course based at ABDO College in Canterbury, but the up side was Emma met her husband Ronan, also a dispensing optician studying the course and ultimately made Northern Ireland her home.

Prior to taking on her store director role with Specsavers in Omagh, Emma who is mum to 7 year old twins worked with a large independent optician as a dispensing optician and a professional services manager.

Reflecting on the last ten years with Specsavers Emma said, ‘Working and living in County Tyrone is fantastic – there is such a great sense of community spirit.

‘We celebrated our refurbished and expanded store in 2015, and we also had a wonderful fun packed day this month to mark our decade in Omagh town centre.

‘We have a huge diverse range of patients from babies to nonagenarians – it really is a privilege to look after and get to know so many local people in the region. Donna and I also have an incredible team of staff and through their hard work and determination we won the Specsavers Business of the Year Award in 2016 – an accolade we’re all very proud of.’

Both directors acknowledge that running a small business is both rewarding and challenging and say every day brings something new.

Emma Finn says, ‘Being in business you are always faced with challenges but it is how you overcome them that defines who you are. We have had many triumphs – some small and others huge and we are immensely proud of our team and the range of customer services awards we have won over the years.’

Echoing Emma’s words Donna Harbison said, ‘We pride ourselves on building up the best customer care service that we can and believe this has helped us achieve many awards in the past decade.

‘Optometry is a rapidly changing profession with a real focus on continual professional development. Specsavers as a company is focusing on best patient care through its enhanced optical services and I have been involved in developing this side of the business by becoming an accredited assessor (WOPEC) in July 2016 allowing me to facilitate the development of other optometrists in Northern Ireland.’

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