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Life as an early career optometrist at George & Matilda

 

Much is made of George & Matilda Eyecare’s value proposition for optometrists later in their working life, but little is known about the wealth of opportunities for an early career optometrist often working under the guidance of Australia’s leading practitioners.

Just four years after graduating, early career NSW optometrist Ms Antigone Kordas has experienced rapid career growth. Not only is she the principal optometrist at George & Matilda (G&M) Eyecare for Maroubra Optometrists, but she oversees appointments for the practice’s outback eyecare program and supervises final-year Deakin and UNSW optometry students.

On top of this, Kordas practises full-scope optometry, ranging from complex contact lens fittings, myopia control, dry eye disease and ocular health management. Through G&M, she’s even acquired a topographer from a local ophthalmologist so she can now start fitting rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses from scratch and train for orthokeratology.

While she is one of those young optometrists with “exceptional natural ability”, according to her colleagues, she has found fulfilment in her career largely due to the opportunities provided by G&M and its community of experienced optometrist partners like Mr Kyriacos (Kyri) Mavrolefteros.

While the G&M network – now supporting over 100 communities across Australia – doesn’t have a standardised graduate program, it customises the experience to each individual’s strengths and opportunities. Kordas is among a growing number of early career optometrists receiving a tailored experience that talks to their strengths, opportunities and interests while being mentored by some of Australia’s leading practitioners.

“Working within this particular practice has also given me the opportunity to experience outback optometry through Kyri, which is something very unique and I know I would not experience elsewhere,” Kordas says.

“Kyri from day one has been my number one advocate. Without him and his wife Katerina, I wouldn’t be the optometrist I am today. Working in a wellestablished practice had always been a main concern as a new graduate starting work for the first time, as I knew many patients would be hesitant to see someone younger and new. But Kyri never let his patients see it this way.

“He would always encourage them to see me and reassure them they were in good and very capable hands. Kyri often tells me of his joy when patients come to say hello and that it’s been great all these years but want to book an appointment with Antigone from now on. He has played an immense role as my mentor and shaped the way I practise today.”

Kordas’ optical career commenced in 2015 when she worked as an optical dispenser at a corporate store amid her first year of optometry studies. Then, in her penultimate year of study, she had a placement in Townsville at an independent practice, where her eyes were opened to the possibilities of independent practice.

Soon she was working at Maroubra Optometrists. A year later, Kyriacos and Katerina partnered with G&M.

“What I enjoy most about working for G&M is how they value every member of the work team, the role they play and especially their ‘patient-first’ approach,” Kordas says.

“As an optometrist, I have complete flexibility to help my patients in the best possible way, and there is a large emphasis for continuing education, with weekly meetings in areas of expertise within optometry such as myopia control, dry eye management, behavioural optometry and advanced contact lens fittings with some of the most experienced and knowledgeable optometrists within the industry.”

For Mavrolefteros, it’s important G&M continues to present opportunities for young optometrists to blossom, find their niche and pursue their passion in their profession.

“Our future is partly underpinned by our fostering and nurturing of young optometrists within the G&M family,” he says.

“Occasionally we come across some young optometrists, like Antigone, with exceptional natural ability to nurture/support younger colleagues. I am indebted to Antigone for capably supporting our work in the challenging outback optometry clinics from Walgett to Cobar and for fostering younger optometrists from UNSW and Deakin universities while they do their preceptorships in Maroubra and the NSW outback. She develops long lasting relationships with these students and is a source of support for our young colleagues upon graduation in the early stages of their careers.”

A two-way street

Mr Peter Park, who graduated from UNSW in 2020, was motivated to pursue an optometry career due to his experiences as a young myope. He was prescribed spectacles at the age of four in Korea, but the condition progressed until he was left wearing thick glasses due to limited clinical knowledge at the time.

Today, he’s an early career optometrist at G&M for theeyecarecompany in Top Ryde, working under the guidance of leading optometrist Dr Margaret Lam.

Similar to Kordas, Park began by optical dispensing, hired by Lam during the second year of his optometry studies.

“Throughout that time, Margaret and the team had taught me all the technical aspects of being a dispenser. However, I learned the most not from information Margaret and the team had taught me, but rather from how they conducted themselves. Whatever the situation, they always had the patient’s best interests at heart and this was exhibited in every interaction,” he says.

“The term ‘work family’ was indeed very true throughout my time as a dispenser. I think it was these factors which ultimately led me in applying for a position as an optometrist in G&M in my final year.”

Dr Margaret Lam (left) with early career optometrist Peter Park, at theeyecarecompany by G&M in Top Ryde, Sydney.

Now a fully-fledged optometrist within the practice, Park says three things stand out: the potential for growth and abundance of opportunity, stability in a time of instability and genuine relationships with team members and patients.

“The final year of optometry is a turbulent time, where placements, reports and patient examinations are required at a high level all whilst applying for potential graduate optometrist positions in the student’s spare time. Thanks to Margaret’s recommendation I was able to have an interview with Amelia Haywood, the regional manager for G&M, and was able to secure a graduate optometrist position. In a time of uncertainty, I was able to have my feet grounded which allowed me to focus my efforts on finishing university,” he explains.

“G&M have also allowed me to grow in the field of optometry. It was the platform from which I could pursue my passions in myopia control by mentoring me through fitting orthokeratology lenses and providing me with a store that fit that passion. Subsequently, I was able to have the opportunity to prescribe orthokeratology and full scope myopia management for my own patients and offer a variety of solutions to help with their eye needs.”

He adds: “Working under Margaret has been an honour as well as a privilege. Her level of professionalism and expertise in the field of optometry is exceptional and commitment to her patients and profession unparalleled.”

Lam says Park possesses “the trifecta” – warmth in his personality, a skill for developing rapport with patients through genuine care, and technical expertise and a meticulousness in professionalism.

She’s also learned a lot about becoming a mentor, explaining that clinical prowess does not always translate into strong teaching ability.

“It is far easier to learn from someone who is able to remember what it was like when they were first learning and remember the challenges you face at the beginning, than from someone who has mastered a skill but can’t remember the simple basics anymore,” she says.

“Mentoring requires extending empathy and patience, we need to understand we are all on a learning journey, albeit some are further along than others. It’s important this is done without any judgement and teaching is done patiently and gently. You can teach by showing someone all their mistakes and break them as a person, or you can highlight their strengths, and build on these to strengthen any areas for further improvement’.”

Lam adds it’s important to allow people to learn at the pace they’re capable of, not setting expectations to learn at your pace.

“For different skills, what I might learn slowly, you might pick up quickly, and vice versa, and if I’m able to be patient with supporting that learning journey for you, we all benefit. In our practices, we discuss case studies and there are lots of on-the-job learning experiences, and in our G&M learning community, we have discussion groups where everyone discusses patient case studies in a welcoming learning community. In a negative workspace where you don’t feel safe, very little growth occurs, so it’s critical to create a work environment where people feel they grow and learn backed by their team.”

Fresh ideas and vibrancy a welcome addition

Mr Andrew Salloum grew up Sydney’s southwest and become involved in optometry surrounded by family and friends who worked in healthcare. But his interest in regional practice was spurred by his optometry studies at Deakin in Waurn Ponds, in 2020, when he also worked as an optical assistant in nearby Geelong.

“I knew practising regionally would expose me to a large array of pathology which was particularly interesting to me. In a sense, Albion Park is a similar town to Geelong, considering they’re both about an hour away from the main city,” he says.

“Dirk den Dulk (optometrist partner at G&M for Partners in Vision, Albion Park) has a variety of interests and has developed such a large patient base which covers a large scope of optometry. This was enticing to me and is what ultimately led me to choose G&M in Albion Park for my three-month Clinical Residential Placement as part of my studies.”

Andrew Salloum began working at G&M for Partners in Vision, Albion Park, this year.

At the time of writing, Salloum was G&M’s newest graduate, officially part of the practice for two months. During his placement, den Dulk’s style of mentoring allowed Salloum to independently develop his skills while addressing any concerns.

“I felt like this was important to my development and confidence as a budding optometrist. G&M Albion Park was the choice for me as I knew I’d be supported by the team,” he says.

“The most beneficial aspect G&M offers is their value for patient-centred care. G&M value clinical independence and allow me to practise and treat patients in the way I feel will be most effective, depending on each individual patient. As such, they give me the ability to take my time with patients without the pressure of KPIs, as the company understands the patient is a person and not a number. This allows me to enfranchise often marginalised groups in society. This G&M career pathway also offers me incredible mentorship, be it from Dirk and the Albion Park team, but also the support I get from G&M’s optometry services team.”

Den Dulk, who has now employed three Deakin graduates through G&M, says three-month student placements are a full time commitment between both parties. That union can feel like an eternity with a poor fit or pass quickly with a student like Salloum.

“It’s about making the student understand they have all the knowledge but now require the skills to manage the patient through their optometric consult. Not only adequately testing, but compassionately fulfilling questions and concerns with a communication level that is both precise and understandable,” den Dulk explains.

“But I also learn lessons with every student. They present with fresh ideas and techniques and their understanding of technological and diagnostic advancements is current.

“I graduated 43 years ago, prior to the advanced technology and pharmacology that newly graduated optometrists have access to now. I feel uplifted by my experience with the new graduate optometrists. This generation are not only well-equipped with knowledge, but have greater clinical exposure before graduating. I am still enjoying my time with these young professionals – I love their passion and vibrancy for the vocation they have chosen and studied very hard for.”

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