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    Q&A: Cheryl Donnelly, CEO, British Contact Lens Association

    Learning from U.S. ODs, focusing on contact lenses, and shivering in Red Square

    Where did you grow up?

    I grew up 25 miles north of Birmingham in the middle of the U.K. My father was European marketing manager for Rover. Mum was a biologist originally before she had me, then a series of part time jobs and bring up the kids. No mean feat as there are three of us.

    What got you into opticianry?

    It goes back to getting my grades to go into university. I was working as a Saturday girl in Boots the chemist in the stationery department selling scientific calculators, fountains pens, and home computers. I didn’t get the grades I was supposed to get, and the HR lady said, “I’ve got the thing for you. We’re opening an optician shop. When you retake your exams, how about you work as a receptionist for us?” It was the second Boots Opticians to open, so that was my introduction to optometry. I thought, “I could do that.” I went off and trained as a dispensing optician and wanted to do contact lenses. I carried on my education and qualified as a contact lens optician.

    Why stick with opticianry, and why contact lenses?

    I was lucky to be teaching the undergrads dispensing at Aston University because I was living not far away. All the time, I kept thinking, “Should I be an optometrist?” But I’d also got a fabulous day job. I was working for a very large chain, Dollond & Aitchison, as contact lens product manager and training manager for optometrists and pre-regs. I had a great time because I was able to do so many things and also teach at the university. I felt I was in a fabulous position doing all this other stuff, and if I did optometry I may end up being only in a consulting room. And whilst that has its great advantages, I felt I was able to give a lot more back by doing what I was doing. So it was quite a tough decision.

    Previous Q&A: Justin Schweitzer OD, FAAO—Cataract, cornea, refractive, and glaucoma surgery specialist

    How did you get from clinical care to association director?

    I learned a lot at Dollond & Aitchison. But I felt that someone had approached me and said, “It might be time for you to work in industry.” I moved to Alcon professional affairs in the U.K., and the BCLA was introduced to me around that time. The BCLA was central to my working world. I then became president of the association in 2000. And it was still there in all my 13 years at Bausch + Lomb. Then the timing was right—my time at Bausch + Lomb came to an end and there was a vacancy at BCLA for somebody to take up the helm. All of us hold the association quite dear, and it’s central to what we do every day whether you’re working in it or alongside it.

    What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

    I used to play the trumpet, but my lip is not there anymore. My favorite thing to do is body-board. I love it. We go down to Cornwall and north Devon in the U.K. every summer. It’s the only thing that I do that I just forget everything.

    What are the main differences between U.S. and U.K. optometry?

    For example, a U.S. optometrist automatically has a therapeutic license. Here in the U.K., independent prescribing (IP), which is probably the equivalent of that therapeutic license, is something you would have to study to do. I think it’s fabulous that in the U.S. you have the doctor’s office right next to the retail glasses shop. They’re able to welcome a patient into their consulting room and charge for their time. It is so frustrating here in the U.K. that we’re not able to do that. Only a certain percentage of practitioners in the U.K. use that fee-based model. In other words, charge for the time and the expertise you’re giving your patients everyday. The U.K. consumer or patient mindset is quite different, and they don’t view eye care as something they should be paying a professional reasonable fee for, that’s the key difference. Clinically, I think U.S. and U.K. optometrists are on a par depending what level of education they’ve achieved. The drivers are your insurance system vs. our hereditary National Health Service (NHS) and the fact that you’re able to keep that professional charge element going.


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