Building an international career in optometry

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Raquel Gil-Cazorla of Aston University on her debut in Madrid, inspired by international optometry and fulfilling her childhood ambitions in the UK

Raquel Gil Cazorla

When I was very young, my father and my brother both wore glasses.

My brother is a year younger than me and I was surprised that he needed glasses to see clearly at a distance. So I went with my dad and my brother to see how an eye exam worked and how they could get the prescription. I was really impressed. I also wanted to wear glasses, because I thought it was really cool. I was curious and I was like, ‘wow, this is really amazing. How can you do that? How to calculate a prescription? How do you do an eye exam? I was really interested from then on.

I have always wanted to do something related to health.

When I was in high school and had to decide what I wanted to do in the future, I looked at different professions and thought optometry was really promising. It is an autonomous and regulated health profession. This is why I decided to embark on this path.

My degree was in optics and optometry.

I studied at the Complutense University of Madrid for three years, then I worked in a law firm for a year, but I knew I wanted to do something else. I wanted to broaden my clinical knowledge, so I did a clinical residency program at university, for almost two years.

After that, I went to work in a private hospital.

I was exposed to all types of eye diseases which improved my clinical skills. It was a very busy hospital and active in research. I was in charge of the contact lens department and the majority of patients required specialized contact lens fitting. I have always been more interested in the medical side of contact lenses, so all of these cases would be referred to me.

It is interesting to see the extent of optometric practice around the world and how optometry has evolved since I started practicing.

Early in my career, I began to present our studies at various international conferences, including those organized by the British Contact Lens Association, the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, and the American Academy of Optometry.

I was really inspired by the scope of practice in the United States, as well as independent diagnostics and prescribing. I did an MSc at the European University of Madrid which included a six week residency in Chicago. I was with third and fourth year students seeing patients. It was really interesting to see how everything worked; the way they did these comprehensive eye exams. I was teaching third year clinics in Madrid, so it was good to try and apply that knowledge and training there.

I then completed a BSc and MSc at Pennsylvania College of Optometry, which consisted primarily of distance education.

The speakers came to Madrid to do the classes and clinical skills, and we went to Philadelphia for a month to do the clinical aspects. It is interesting to see the extent of optometric practice around the world and how optometry has evolved since I started practicing. I qualified in 1998, and since then everything has changed a lot.

After completing my masters degree, I wanted to apply the knowledge and clinical skills that I had acquired during the course, but I could not use them in Spain as we are not qualified to work at that level there.

I did my doctorate in Spain, related to refractive surgery, winning the extraordinary prize (for the best academic results at the university), which I was extremely proud of.

As soon as I finished I knew I wanted to do postdoctoral work in the UK, to find other ways to research and practice.

In 2013, I got a postdoctoral position here at Aston University, which was initially three years.

I also started doing the Independent Prescribing (IP) qualification.

I knew I wanted to do postdoctoral work in UK, to find other ways to research and practice

I never stopped studying, so IP was a normal process for me. It was outside of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed it. I think that’s the way to go. I think more and more optometrists, especially the new generation, will become independent prescribers.

During my post-doctorate, an optometry lecture at Aston became available, and I got it. A few months later, I qualified as an independent prescriber.

When I was very little, I put all my dolls in front of me and I taught them.

When I decided I wanted to do optometry, I really liked the concept because I thought maybe I could do research and teach. When I finished my studies I did things that I knew would help me become a speaker. This is why I broadened my knowledge further in the clinical aspects of research. I think I always knew I wanted to be in academia, teaching and doing research.

I always try to take every opportunity I get.

Some people don’t want to do this, because it’s out of their comfort zone. In Spain, I had my niche, so everything was easier. But I wanted to grow up and acquire knowledge from another country. It was a big step, because it was like starting from scratch. It is important that you try to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone. Try to learn from each experience and benefit from it.

Plan B?

I always knew I wanted to do something within the health professions. I’ve always been fascinated by scientists: people in the lab with microscopes. I wanted to do pure science, or biology. So maybe a microbiologist.


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