Don Williams, owner of a private clinic in Birmingham, United Kingdom, is the first Seychellois to be nominated as one of the best optometrists in the UK.
William is one of the five registered specialist optometrists shortlisted by the Association of Optometrists in London for the 2020 Award. Voting for the nominees is now open until December 5th.
SNA spoke to Williams via email to learn more about his nomination and his career in the UK.
SNA: Tell me about yourself and your journey to being an optometrist.
DW: I was born and raised in the Seychelles and attended various schools including La Digue where my father is from for only one year. Like most students in those days, after finishing school, I went to the National Youth Service. I attended Seychelles Polytechnic for three years doing my ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels.
I then spent over a year at the Eye Clinic and then left for Paris after a while for further studies. I spent three years in Paris doing mainly optics. Upon completion of my training in Paris, I came over to Birmingham, UK, where I have been ever since. I did my undergraduate studies in optometry at the Institute of Neuroscience and Vision Science at Aston University and graduated with Honours in Bachelor of Science in Optometry.
Following that, I became a Member of the British College of Optometrists and also fully registered with the General Optical Council, UK. After a while, I returned to education and did further post-graduate studies in Cataract and Refractive Surgery under the mentorship of a world-renowned surgeon, Professor Sunil Shah, who I also keep in touch with. I am currently following some further studies and research in the field of glaucoma.
SNA: Tell us about your professional career?
DW: My professional journey took me from working in laser vision correction and cataract hospital, glaucoma specialist departments to now working in the complex surgical glaucoma department at one of UK’s busiest NHS (National Health Service) eye departments as a consultant registered glaucoma specialist.
Aside from running my own private clinic, I am doing research and studying. This involves managing complex glaucoma surgical patients and I also run my own medical glaucoma surgical laser clinic. I have been working in glaucoma over a decade now. I am also very fortunate to work in close collaboration both at the NHS and privately with arguably one of the best glaucoma surgeons in Europe, Imran Masood. He is truly a ‘gifted’ surgeon and he leads the whole glaucoma department. He introduced the UK to some new glaucoma surgical procedures.
SNA: How do you feel about being shortlisted as one of the best five optometrists in the UK?
DW: To be shortlisted as one of the top five registered specialist optometrists in the UK brings a sense of achievement. I was nominated by various colleagues due to the type of work that I do as they consider some of my work as pioneering.
For example, I was one of the first optometrists in the UK to give injections inside the
eyeball for various eye conditions. I was also the first and only registered specialist optometrists accredited by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists to perform laser surgical procedures. This nomination is the pinnacle of clinical success and excellence in my profession. To win this prestigious award will be the ultimate achievement because if I win I will the first non-UK born clinician to achieve this award.
SNA: You have your own private practice, how did that come about?
DW: Edgbaston eye clinic is a private ophthalmology service located in the medical quarter in Edgbaston. It is a private medical facility in a medical building. My practice is equipped with some of the most advanced ocular diagnostic imaging device known in eye care.
I deal and manage basic eye conditions to the more complex. However, glaucoma remains the main service and the equipment is geared towards glaucoma. Masood and I do a lot of collaborative work in my clinic and the President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists would sometimes run his clinics in my rooms.
Williams private practice is equipped with some of the most advanced ocular diagnostic imaging device known in eye care. (Don Williams) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
SNA: How do patients react to your treatment?
DW: All one needs to do is look at my ‘google’ reviews to appreciate the level of service and the high standard of ophthalmic care in my private practice. The practice is still growing as it is still a new venture and I have got a loyal cohort of patients that would follow me anywhere.
Patients either self-book or are referred by other colleagues and general practitioners. I also see many medical insured patients and also see medico-legal patients. I am currently looking into expanding to put a ‘mini-theatre’ for my glaucoma laser patients and other surgical procedures. I also accept referrals from various clinicians for very specific tests. Patients travel as far as Wales to come to my clinic. The furthest a patient has travelled is from Edinburgh, Scotland.
SNA: Who has inspired you to take up this career?
DW: My inspiration comes from various fantastic brains in the field however being at the Seychelles’ eye clinic in my youth did trigger this inspiration. I guess that’s where my inspiration emanated.
SNA: What has been the most difficult moment you have faced throughout your career?
DW: I have faced various challenges to get to this level. I am a very strongminded individual, confident and would literally break barriers to fulfil my goals at whatever cost. I am not easily deterred and to reach this height you have to also be selfish.
The UK being one of the economic forces in the world will always throw challenges at you and sometimes being 1 of 63 million people and especially being an immigrant in the western world even though naturalised does bring its challenges. I guess after 20 years being here, you learn your way around. Trust and respect are earned not given! So to be recognised as one of the top five makes it all the sweeter.
SNA: What makes you passionate about your job?
DW: One thing that I do know is, I feel in the right place! Again, it doesn’t feel like work. I am always trying to better myself even at 45. Even if I am not crowned as the first, as a Seychellois I am very proud to be part of the elite in my profession in the UK.
I also say this to patients and people in general, I don’t work, what I do is pure passion so patient care is always my priority and of course, I have to be remunerated for it. However, the care of my patients remains my main focus always.
William what he does is pure passion. (Don Williams) Photo License: All Rights Reserved
SNA: Did you think you would find such professional success when you were in school in Seychelles?
DW: No is the simple answer. All that said, when I was about 8/9 years old I saw my uncle’s degree (B.Sc.) on the wall and was left so inspired that I knew then that I would want to go to university. That was my goal from a young age. To achieve university acceptance and entrance from a small island state like the Seychelles was seen as the ultimate goal and I still believe that it is still the case. I am a very tenacious person and I am always setting new goals both academically and professionally and this is important for progression other you remain stagnant and in a comfort bubble.
SNA: What advice do you have for our Seychellois students?
DW: One aspect of academic life is that once you have graduated in any degree, you do not actually know anything! Learning to drive starts when you get your driving licence. It is a common misconception that once you have graduated you are an expert in your field, the simple answer is ‘you are not’. Expertise comes with experience and experience comes from listening to qualified experience colleagues and ‘hands-on application’ of theoretical knowledge. Doing the same thing on a regular basis is the recipe for perfection and that applies to all professional careers.
My advice to students, especially in higher education is to get recognition by registering with an internationally recognised professional body. Registration is recognition of competence. So my most important piece of advice for students or new graduates of any denomination, try your hardest to achieve professional registration even though it is not an easy path. It is vitally important.
Source: Seychelles News Agency