The year 2021 was challenging for new-graduate optometrists navigating the workforce for the first time – even more so for those relocating to regional and remote areas.
We spoke to three optometry graduates – Lynn Qian, Sunny Nandee and Hannah Ellis – all of whom made the move in 2020 to practise in regional New South Wales (NSW). Lynn moved from Melbourne to Orange, Sunny moved to Dubbo and Hannah to Broken Hill. They offer insights into regional life and advice on common challenges for optometry graduates and students considering a move outside of metropolitan centres.
What challenges did you face when moving to regional NSW?
Sunny: ‘Moving to regional NSW was daunting at the start and the first couple of months were a huge learning curve for me, as I had to get to know all the local ophthalmologists’ specialities and learn to refer patients to the appropriate specialist within a reasonable timeframe. The initial challenges I faced in moving were the lack of nightlife and the fact that shops closed earlier. But, by getting involved in the community, I was introduced to other opportunities, such as the local sports club and weekly community marathons, as well as farmers’ markets and hiking trails.’
Hannah: ‘Broken Hill is quite isolated and, due to limited flights during the pandemic and driving through kangaroo territory, it hasn’t been easy to visit family and friends. That said, I’ve met a lot of incredible people; Broken Hill is definitely worth a visit!’
How did the pandemic affect your final year of studies?
Sunny: ‘I was in the middle of my clinical placements in Tasmania when the lockdown and restrictions began. Those months were stressful and isolating. However, I used my free time to learn new skills and try out new hobbies, which was so rewarding! I also used that time to prepare for my upcoming clinical exams. My advice to other graduating health professionals in unfamiliar territory is to use the opportunity to focus on your own wellbeing and personal growth.’
Lynn: ‘Due to COVID-19 restrictions, unfortunately a lot of the practical work was cancelled for our cohort, including regional and overseas placements. But I know there will be more opportunities in the future – you just have to take them when you can. And, if you missed out on your regional placements at university, why not work in a regional town after you graduate?’
What have you found helpful when settling into your new community?
Sunny: ‘It helps if you get to know the other local optometrists and health professionals in the region. Joining a social group will also help you immensely to settle in and make new acquaintances. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself to the local ophthalmologists, pharmacists and GPs and get to know the support network available.’
Lynn: ‘Find out in advance what support they offer graduate optometrists, what optometric equipment they provide and the local referral pathways. When I first graduated, I felt I wasn’t ready to be an optometrist – this was due in part to our limited practical experience. However, once I started working, I realised that university had prepared us well enough to start our career.’
Hannah: ‘Working as the sole practitioner at our practice has been an incredible experience. Some useful advice I was given when I was considering the job in Broken Hill was to spend a few days in that location before making your final decision and moving. I would suggest being open to trying new things, meeting new people and embracing new experiences.’