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Meet The Experts – Clare O’Donnell

8 July 2021

Please give an overview of your role within Optegra?

I am Head of Optegra Eye Sciences and Optometry. This means I work closely with management colleagues, surgeon partners, our optometrists and other colleagues to ensure Optegra continues to offer the highest standard of clinical care by utilising the data that we provide to make business decisions and to support the continual refinement of our processes.

Audits of surgical procedures and research with patients help us to quality-assure the clinical aspects of our services; and we work hard with clinicians to continually revise the way we deliver care to patients by reviewing their feedback.

 We also explore new innovative treatments, partnering with universities and industry partners helping to develop treatments and health care of the future.

 

What first attracted you to this industry?

 I was very fortunate to have a dedicated career advisor at school who really made us consider our interests and what sort of environment we saw ourselves in. I had a passion for the clinical and medical side of things and was also interested in business aspects.  Optometry sounded as though it ticked most of those boxes!

I worked as a clinical optometrist for a few years and really honed my clinical skills, and right from the moment I qualified I was invited to teach in the only Scottish optometry school.

I really enjoyed the teaching and I had the opportunity to spend a year in New Zealand where I taught at the University of Auckland.  It was wonderful to work hard Monday to Friday and then every Friday evening at 5pm jump in my little red car and explore that amazing country!

Back in the UK I did a PhD at the University of Manchester and ran an award-winning public access optometry clinic there, looking after all the optometrists and student clinics. I became Senior Lecturer and then joined Optegra – a new challenge with an exciting new company and a blank sheet of opportunity!

 

What brings you joy in your work?

 There is so much I genuinely enjoy! And they are the elements that involve delivering the best care for patients. When I spend time in the hospitals, I love to see our clinicians so expertly looking after our patients and the difference we can make.  Feedback from our patients shows we are consistently delivering fantastic care and that feels wonderful.

I’m also part of the team which developed and provides our new virtual ‘E-clinic’.  Being personally involved in that, seeing the tremendous outcomes for patients I previously have delivered an online consultation to, is great.

 

Do you miss working as an optometrist?

Having worked with hundreds of optometrists over the years, it is something clinicians are fearful of – if you stop providing hands-on care, you could lose your clinical skills.

I have got so many years of experience in community and hospital eye healthcare; I genuinely love to continue to be involved with patients and our virtual clinic provides this contact.

But I have also come to realise you simply cannot have it all – if you want to conduct the clinical audits, look after research activities, supervise PhD students, publish papers, present at conferences, there is simply no time to have a full clinical case load as well. My role permits me to have rewarding aspects of clinical care, so it’s the best of both worlds!

 

Can you give me an insight to the types of training optometrists need to keep up with?

Community optoms do an amazing job in tight timeframes and busy clinical diaries. They have to assimilate a lot of clinical information and it can be a tough call to make patients aware of all eye healthcare options available to them.

They need to be aware of all the latest treatment options in a fast-changing sector – with new innovations coming all the time.  And of course patients have access to lots of  information online so it is important for clinicians in primary healthcare to be aware of these developments.

Optegra works really hard to deliver high quality Continuing Education and Training (CET) to support clinicians to stay up-to-date.  Our extensive range of training programmes for newly qualified and experienced optometrists is delivered face-to-face in hospitals, or online webinars, through articles we publish in professional journals, and publications that our PR team put together to share with colleagues in the community.

 

Proudest moment of your career?

 I was pretty chuffed at completing a PhD and an MBA whilst managing a busy job and clinic at the university.

I’ve since been really impressed when people succeed at life-long learning and gaining additional qualifications when working, as I know how hard that is…and this is why I got such a buzz working with our PhD students here at Optegra.

I am super proud of Ipek and Alberto, they were our first PhD students working between Aston University and Optegra Hospitals, fitting research around our busy clinical work, they did an amazing job, fully supported by our excellent clinical teams and Eye Sciences colleagues.

 

How would you describe the ethos of Optegra?

Very patient-focused and increasingly data-driven which is great and as it should be.

We are and always will be all about outcomes and all about patients.

 

Most challenging moment in your career?

One of my hardest decisions was leaving the University where I worked for so long to join a relatively young company at the time.  I agonised long and hard before coming to Optegra – was this going to be as rewarding as moulding all those young minds at the University and working with a range of fabulous academic colleagues? It was so unknown, but it was the best decision and I have loved setting up the Eye Sciences roles, securing research grants and funding, getting PhD students, working with the optometrists and surgeons, presenting at conferences –  it has ticked all those boxes and so much more.

 

Your top advice around eye health?

Regular eye checks is a given.  Eat well, sleep well and don’t ignore changes that happen to your body – anything not normal for you, don’t hesitate to seek advice.

 

What has the pandemic taught you?

Not to take anything for granted such as being able to see loved ones.  Don’t put things off and try to enjoy every day.

Also to think outside the box.  We don’t have to always do things as we have always done them just for the sake of it.  For example, regarding how we care for patients, we have proven we can effectively and efficiently deliver elements of care remotely, which has been a big learning.

 

Your perfect holiday?

That’s easy!  A part of the Italian Tuscan countryside we have been going to for many years now.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, an exceptional facility with great Italian food, amazing service; a little retreat all about health, relaxation and wellbeing.

 

Any unusual or interesting hobby?

I love French jive, ‘Ceroc’ dancing – I went along with a friend to try it out and had no idea what to expect. It opened up a whole new social life and is excellent exercise.

I also enjoy Northern Soul dancing with its 60’s vibe music – I’m not very good, but I love it!

 

Any quirky recipe you cook or cocktail you make?

My cocktail of choice is an espresso martini but I’m a truly horrible cook.  My husband does all of the cooking…I’d probably live on chocolate otherwise!

Clare O'Donnell – Head of Optegra Eye Sciences and Optometry
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