What inspires me to teach

My experiences as a teaching clinician at the University of Melbourne 

Last week, I was asked to speak at the University of Melbourne Eyecare Clinician’s end of year cocktails. I was asked to speak on how I inspire students, and I have to admit, I was a little nervous as those who remember me as a student would recall that I was not the best student... I was disenchanted and bored. If there could have been a prize for the person most likely to leave optometry I probably would have won it. I saw optometry as repetitive and uni-dimensional and I envisaged a career in a small dark room.

Optometry didn’t really make any sense to me until we began clinical practice, and this was largely influenced by my clinical supervisors. I really enjoyed the patient interaction, and I learnt the nuances of managing patients, and discovered there was more than one way to practice.

During clinical visits to rural optometrists I was able to witness the appreciation and respect that patients had for their optometrists, and the pride and enjoyment that it brought them. I soon came to realise that optometry is what you make it, and learnt that the more you put in, the more you get back.

There was one particular visiting practitioner that I particularly admired, and I was lucky enough to score a graduate position with him. He became my teacher and my mentor. He encouraged me to develop myself professionally and supported me the entire way. Without his support, and with him pushing me, and the support of many others along the way, there is no way I would be standing here in front of you. I feel very lucky to have entered this profession, one that is so generous and so kind, and so open.

Earlier this year I had two encounters with a couple of recent grads.

One referred a patient to me, and wrote an impeccable referral letter. The letter was detailed, yet only included the relevant information. Reading the letter, it was evident that she had managed the patient perfectly. She had used therapeutic agents appropriately, and only when these could not provide sustained improvement, she referred him to me for contact lens fitting. When I saw the patient, he was well informed as she had done all the ground work for me.

This instance stood out to me because of her excellent management and communication, even though she was only a very recent grad. She wasn’t afraid to use therapeutics and she used them appropriately.

It made me proud.. proud of the student, proud to be part of a teaching team that helped to educate this optometrist, and proud to be from an institution which produces optometrists of this calibre. 

The other was a letter – a heartfelt letter thanking me for advice I had given. It took me by surprise because I vaguely remembered casual chats with this student, but I had no idea she had taken it so much to heart. This touched me and made me realise how even small gestures can have a large impact on our students, to help build them up and give them confidence in their future careers.

So I’ve told you what inspires me – the educators & mentors I’ve had before me and the students who have flourished into practitioners and have become my colleagues.

But I was asked to talk about techniques that I use to ‘inspire’ the students. That part is simple. Be the clinician, the optometrist, the professional that they would want to be.