After being inspired by his own optometrist, Joe Paul chose to study optometry as it fit with his goal of helping people. He is now Head of Professional Services at Specsavers.
Helping others has been high on Joe Paul’s priority list since he graduated with a Bachelor of Optometry in 2011 and a PhD in 2016.
In his role as Head of Professional Services at Specsavers Australia and New Zealand, Joe achieves this by supporting other optometrists to provide the best possible care to patients on a wide scale.
Why the University of Melbourne?
Towards the end of high school, my optometrist at the time happened to ask me about my plans for university and my career during an eye test.
I was considering a career in either a medical or scientific field, and my optometrist convinced me to investigate optometry as a career that would blend both fields. I attended an open day and was very impressed by the facilities, the staff and the university's history.
What are your strongest memories of university?
The friends I made. Optometry is not a big course, or a large profession, so it is a very close group. I also fondly recall many a break between afternoon lectures in the sun on South Lawn!
What goals did you set yourself and have you stuck to that plan?
My first goal was to complete a PhD and help further our understanding of glaucoma, a blinding eye disease. I am proud to say I was able to do this in the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne, and then complete a postdoctoral position at the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
My second goal is to help advance the profession to take advantage of the breakthroughs in science and technology that could help us care for our patients better – this remains a lifelong goal!
What/who motivated you at university?
My optometrist pointed me towards optometry as a profession, though my motivation to study was to gain skills and knowledge that would allow me to help people.
One of the most powerful motivations I had at the university was my friends and colleagues in the course. It is hard not to be inspired by a group of people who are so passionate about helping others.
What drew you to your area of expertise and what do you love about it?
I think it is a phenomenal privilege to be able to help people see clearly! As optometrists we get to change peoples' lives every day, which is something that I will always love.
Tell us more about your role and how university helped you prepare for it.
My role is to provide support to more than 1500 optometrists across Australia and New Zealand. This ranges from one-on-one clinical support right through to publishing articles in national trade media to highlight the success and challenges facing the industry.
Another side of my role is to help advance the profession so that we can provide the best possible care to our patients, aiming to improve our understanding of eyecare in Australia and New Zealand through data, and using that data to highlight the great successes and the opportunities for the industry.
My optometry degree is obviously fundamental to my role. I also use skills gained from my PhD on a daily basis, like the ability to interrogate large datasets and communicate complex topics in a simple manner.
What does a normal day at work look like?
I don't know if there is a 'normal' day, to be honest! On any given day I might do any of the following:
- talk to optometrists in Australia or New Zealand about issues that are affecting them
- meet with representatives from patient support groups
- discuss advances in clinical care with colleagues in Europe and Canada
- review an article for publication in trade media discussing the advances in detection of glaucoma over the past five years driven by our clinical strategy
- support other members of my team with their goals to enhance patient care, support, and education for our optometrists.
Every day is different!
What are some career highlights and what’s next?
My highlights tend to be my 'firsts' – the first patient I saw after graduating (which was as daunting as it was exciting), the first paper I published as first author, [and] the first international educational webinar I hosted during COVID restrictions.
What advice do you have for current students?
Be inquisitive and open-minded, and don't be afraid to ask 'why?'. Understanding why things are the way they are is so important in everything from helping a patient see clearly, to addressing structural issues in the healthcare system.
But, also, don't neglect the fun stuff! There are so many opportunities to have a great time and meet amazing people at university, so make the most of it.
What excites you most about the future?
There's so much change happening in our industry, including new treatments for eye disease, new diagnostic technology, and the early stages of AI (artificial intelligence).
I'm really excited for a future in which our profession can use all these tools to make sure that nobody needlessly loses vision.