UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Spotlight on Jay Varia

We speak to Jay Varia, Clinical Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, about her career and the Advanced Practice courses.

Jay Varia
Tell me more about your background – it would be great to find out more about your education and career so far.

I am an Advanced Practitioner in Ophthalmology with a background in Optometry. My undergraduate degree was from the University of Wales, College of Cardiff and after qualifying, I joined Moorfields Eye Hospital. I then pursued a hospital optometry career alongside specialist community optometry which allowed a breadth of practice and the ability to view the patient journey from both ends. The path to Advanced Practice was gradual. At Moorfields, I initially undertook specialist optometry clinics including complex refraction, low vision, and medical contact lenses incorporating keratoconus, paediatric and sclerals. At the time, few ophthalmology clinics were available to work in as a non-medical professional, but these became available as the demand for services increased. I then took on enhanced practice in ophthalmology clinics in glaucoma, cataract and external disease working in multi-disciplinary teams. Throughout my career, I have been involved in teaching and supervision and was appointed Head of Optometry Education at Moorfields which involved setting up staff education and training, continuing professional development courses and qualifications as well as both pioneering Advanced Practice MSc programmes in Ophthalmology with UCL.

The four pillars of Advanced Practice (clinical, leadership, education, and research) have given me an interesting and varied portfolio career. Clinically, I have a specialist interest in glaucoma working autonomously and supervising in optometrist-led clinics. My strategic leadership role in optometry education involves leading a growing team and representing optometry education for the department nationally, as well as leadership on the MSc programme. In education, I have worked extensively in e-learning, curriculum development, design and assessment and am a glaucoma module lead on the Advanced Practice MSc programmes. In research, I have embarked on pedagogical research focussing on interprofessional education.

Why should a graduate pursue a career in your programme area, and why do you think a programme like this is needed?

With the global demand for eyecare increasing, there are critical debates about how to meet the demand for eyecare as the population ages. In the United Kingdom, for example, ophthalmology is the busiest outpatient specialty in the NHS. One solution to this problem is to stratify care and train non-medical ophthalmic professionals to take on low risk and stable clinical care. When I first started working as an enhanced practitioner in ophthalmology clinics, standardised formal postgraduate ophthalmic programmes did not exist for non-medical ophthalmic professionals to take on these roles; learning was done on the job and training was variable. There was a need to provide a structured approach to allow practitioners the protected time to learn the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to take on these new roles, hence the need for this MSc Advanced Practice programme. Graduates will be contributing to easing the burden of care but also they will have the option to have a varied, fulfilling and rewarding career.

What is unique about the MSc Advanced Practice programmes at UCL?

The Advanced Practice programmes at UCL are delivered in partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital, two world-renowned institutions in Ophthalmology. UCL has been ranked the best place to study ophthalmology and the programme is taught and delivered by non-medical clinicians who work at Advanced Practice level and world-renowned ophthalmologists who work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary teams at Moorfields. There will be the opportunity to work alongside students from different ophthalmic professions where there will be a unique opportunity to gain from the richness of interprofessional learning. The unique structure of the programmes provides broad training in the four busiest specialties in ophthalmology with the opportunity to specialise in one clinical area, as well as the education in the other three non-clinical pillars.

The programme is also unique in that it also has a parallel pioneering degree apprenticeship MSc available to applicable UK-based students, where tuition fees are covered by the UK apprenticeship levy. As part of this degree, workplace learning is carried out alongside study, which is guaranteed by the student’s employer, and where education and clinical supervision in the workplace are funded by Health Education England.

What are you looking for in ideal candidates that apply to these programmes?

First and foremost, passion for the subject and for learning. In addition, we are looking for traits that will lead to an excellent clinician such as empathy and teamwork. We are also looking for you to demonstrate that you will be a good student including time management, resilience, and communication. Your personal statement should also include your rationale for applying for the course, your career aspirations and more about yourself to demonstrate the characteristics of a well-rounded person.

What careers do you envisage your graduates pursuing?

Non-medical ophthalmic professionals pre-dominantly have had a narrow scope of clinical practice. This Advanced Practice degree will expand horizons. Graduates could choose to have a varied portfolio career incorporating all the four pillars of advance practice, but also have the option to take on roles in one or more pillars as their career progresses. Career options include taking up roles such as clinical lead where they could be responsible for setting up and leading a non-medical clinical service, supervising, providing clinical training and supervision, conducting an audit, and taking part in clinical trials or research. Graduates could also choose to pre-dominantly go down one pillar such as in leadership, for example being head of a department or positions in organisational management. In education, undertaking clinical training and supervision, leading an education department, or taking up roles in higher education such as leading a module or programme. Graduates could also pursue a career in clinical, leadership or pedagogical research. These are just examples, but the options are numerous.

What would be your top tip for your students after they graduate?

Keep on evolving, explore and don't be afraid to take on new roles!