Thinking of becoming a dispensing optician? Read Nicola’s story

Like many people, Nicola Stokoe stumbled into the world of optics. She says, “I was unemployed when my mum saw the ad for a trainee DO; I applied and started work two days later at Specsavers in Sunderland. My aunty works in optics, but I didn’t think it was a career that would interest me. My only experience of eyecare was eye exams as a child. I didn’t need a prescription so I thought it was all very straightforward.

“It didn’t take long for me to realise there was far more to it. I really liked the fashion side of it. I try all the new frames on: if I know how they fit on me that will help me advise other people. I also like the paediatric side of it. It can be difficult for parents who don’t wear glasses when faced with finding glasses for their child for the first time, so I like to put their mind at rest and give them a hand.”

Nicola studied for her Cert 3 and Cert 4 with Specsavers and says, “I learnt more about the physics side of things which I hadn’t known. After Cert 3 and Cert 4 the company suggested I do the diploma. I listened to the views of both the DOs in practice, one of whom had trained with ABDO College, the other who had done a diploma elsewhere. He said the ABDO College course was harder, which made me want to do the course even more because I thought I would learn more.

I took out a student loan and started the degree.” Nicola loved her first impressions of ABDO College. She says, “The building is amazing – what a great place.” She also enjoyed meeting her fellow student DOs: “You’re all in the same boat. I stayed in the accommodation, and there is a great sense of support there. We would all sit round and study together, so you always have someone to bounce your questions off. The teachers were brilliant, happy to stay late and go through something extra too.”

Nicola found the first year the hardest. She explains, “I had to learnt to manage my time with work, study and block release. I also had to get used to studying again – 1 was 25, and I’d been out of education a while.” She found the ABDO College tutor system most helpful, saying, “It was good to have someone who had done it before specifically to help you.”

There were a number of highlights of the course for Nicola. She explains, “Anatomy was brilliant, and I loved practical dispensing. It’s great to have all the background knowledge, but you still have to sit face to face with someone and measure them.” She continues ‘The essays were the part that I least enjoyed. As much as the lecturers give you great notes, I’d never written essays before. You have to find resources, check your hierarchy of evidence, and that was hard to get into.”

However, Nicola overcame her issues with essays in time for her final year dissertation. She says, “With that,
I picked the subject that I was interested, which made a big difference, and now I really enjoy the research side of things. What I learnt makes you evaluate things more critically. Now, when I read an article in the paper or online I think, ‘Where’s the evidence?'”

Nicola is still in the same practice, working within a team of DOs. She says, “We bounce ideas off each other and support each other so it is a great place to work. In the future, I would like to go on to become a distance learning tutor for ABDO College, and I have sent off for my application for that. I would like to be able to support someone else in the same way I was supported.”

This interview first appeared in Dispensing Optics magazine

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