Professor Shahina Pardhan (BSc Optometry 1984 & PhD in Optometry 1989):
The pioneering Director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute at the School of Medicine, Anglia Ruskin University, UK, past Bradford Lecturer and beloved alumna gave us this personal message to celebrate International Women’s Day:
What would I say to those starting out in their careers? Dream it. Wish it. Do it! Don’t wait for opportunity to arise – create it.
I owe University of Bradford a huge debt of gratitude for instilling in me the love for research and for that I would thank my mentor and PhD supervisor Jim Gilchrist, who not supported me when I came to the UK as an undergraduate student, but also became a very good friend. It was also at Bradford that I met my other friends who keep me sane after all these years.
Yes, in my career there have been challenges to overcome- but then who does not have them? On my wall at work I have a phrase ‘Failure is not the opposite of success – it’s a stepping stone to success’.
Although evidence suggests that it is not yet a level playing field for women in top jobs, there is now widespread awareness of this, and we all need to take steps to recognise unconscious bias that contributes to it in ourselves and in each other. It does not mean that shoddy or substandard work by women needs to be rewarded but that we recognise that women are just as capable as men.
At 18, Shahina moved to Yorkshire from Tanzania and went on to graduate with a first-class degree in optometry from the University of Bradford. After receiving a scholarship from the College of Optometrists, she completed her doctorate in 1989. She joined the University of Bradford in 1994 where she was its only Asian female lecturer, and became the first woman to be appointed Professor of Optometry, at Anglia Ruskin University.
Founding director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute at the School of Medicine, Anglia Ruskin University, Shahina Pardhan has been the trailblazer for women in the vision research community. She is the recipient of the first Ismaili Award for Excellence (1992, for outstanding academic achievement), an Asian Women of Achievement Award (2001), and an Asian Jewel Award (2005, in healthcare and education).
How I Volunteered My Eyes!
A first hand account of your alumni communications coordinator, Kathleen McGrath’s visit to the Eye Clinic at University of Bradford.
I need to get my eyes tested. And I work at a University that has one of the best Optometry courses in the country. I decided to find out if this faculty can help me.
I google ‘University of Bradford Optometry’ and I follow the link: https://www.bradford.ac.uk/optometry/
The faculty provides and eye clinic with a telephone number, so I call and am greeted by a friendly voice, asking when I would like to book an appointment. The voice explains that they run clinics every day, that 3rd year students conduct the tests and that an experienced and qualified supervisor checks every step of the tests. This will take longer than at a high street optician, at around 2 hours but I am reassured that the clinic is very thorough.
I confess that I am writing an article for the alumni newsletter and ask to meet someone for a chat, ‘not a problem’ says the friendly voice, ‘you can meet Alison the clinic manager, just pop in 30 minutes before your appointment’. Thank you and I ask for the name of the voice – ‘Katherine’. Thank you, Katherine.
Now, I am not an experience glasses wearer, and apart from the usual regular ‘check ups’ I have limited experience at opticians but blurred vision and headaches tell me the time has come to get these peepers checked out, and as I find myself in a very modern, clean, bright and open building – I begin to think that this is a very well equipped, state-of-
the-art clinic. I find row upon row of spectacles, arranged just as you would expect in a opticians waiting room – I am checked in and Alison Green, Clinic Manager comes out to greet me, so I take the opportunity to ask her some questions about the eye clinic:
So, is the clinic open to everyone?
Yes, students, staff and the public are very welcome to come along to any one of our clinics.
What kind of clinics do you run?
We operate a contact lens clinic, a vision street clinic, a low vision aids clinic and this eye clinic. All the clinics are busy but the visual stress clinic is the most popular as we are helping people identify weaknesses that may be affecting areas of their lives such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, some people have difficulty reading black and white so we aim to help support those people as best we can.
It feels friendly in here, with lots of older people and young families chatting while they wait, is this a typical day?
Our clinics run at set times of the day, so people wait together to be called in by a student. There is a mixture of patients and volunteers that wait to be seen. Some people volunteer to help the students gain valuable experience and some come to feel part of the university community. It is great to have real patients, that have cases and issues that students can work on, but it is also good for them to have familiar faces that they can build confidence in working with the public over longer periods.
So, anyone can volunteer?
Absolutely, volunteers and patients come to us because they know they will get thorough tests, they are not rushed through and they are helping the students to learn and become first class optometrists.
Do the students have any preparation before working with the public?
Yes, these are 3rd year students whom will have undertaken training in their previous years study, including role-playing in how to best make patients feel comfortable and relaxed. Some of the students have Saturday jobs working in opticians as optical assistants, which also gives them good grounding in working with the public.
Are the tests checked?
Yes, we have 12 students seeing one patient or volunteer each, and each group of 4 students has a dedicated and experienced supervisor, some of whom are alumnus. All steps of the tests are checked, and should anything need follow-up, we also offer referral appointments for specific areas.
Is that why it takes 2 hours for the tests?
We are very careful that every test is conducted with the highest professional standards, whilst technically very competent some students may need guidance about how to ask the right questions to gain clearer case histories, or other elements that come with experience and learning whilst doing. We often get alumni or residents come back time and again because the experience is so friendly, and they see how they are really supporting our students in a very practical way.
The interview is over as it is time for me to go have my tests, and 2 hrs later I feel that I have been treated with the utmost respect, care and attention. Everything is explained to me as it is being done, I have ample opportunity to ask questions and I even leave with a referral to a follow-up clinic in a few weeks’ time which is booked then and there. Prescription in hand I leave feeling valued, and valuable.
Normally, when I approach writing an article like this, I do these things so you, dear reader, don’t have to, but this time I thoroughly recommend going along and volunteering your eyes too. – Just sit in a chair for 2 hours, be carefully cared for and know that you are helping prepare the future workforce. Time well spent.
PS: In case you were wondering – the follow-up was fine, all good and new glasses being used during the making of this article!
We are open Monday – Friday, 9AM – 5PM.