By Jose Estevez
From a very early stage in my Flinders degree, I realised how important research actually was.
It wasn't just about coming up with new findings or incredible treatments; it was also about informing us as clinicians about the best way to manage eye conditions. It explained why we choose the treatments that we do, defined how long these treatments should last, established dosages and revealed side-effects.
It was clear that without research and evidence, it is difficult to have the knowledge to successfully and competently look after our patients. Given that we spent a lot of time analysing and the reviewing the existing research, I found that this was a path I would like to go down.
The Flinders University optometry program had a strong focus on vision research and evidence-based practice. Every week, we would review and present a landmark clinical trial that shaped the way we practise optometry today. We would also spend a whole year doing our own research project, which took us through the entire process of research, from submitting an ethics application to submitting the paper to a scientific journal.
Research in action
It is important early on in your career to improve your clinical knowledge and skills, as it is very easy to lose some fundamentals. After this, you can branch out into more ‘specialised’ roles.
As part of the Aboriginal Diabetes Study, Australia’s most comprehensive study of Indigenous people and diabetes, I am a member of a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, Aboriginal health practitioners, scientists and professors at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.
I am in a special role that splits my time between clinical and research work. We visit Aboriginal communities throughout South Australia and conduct clinical and biological assessments relating to diabetes. I am particularly interested in genomic work and how it relates to diabetic complications, such as cardiovascular disease and retinopathy.
For me, a typical day in the community involves a thorough eye examination including visual acuity, refraction, intraocular pressures, corneal thickness, optical coherence tomography of macula and disc, retinal photo and slit-lamp examination of the anterior and posterior segment.
I have been lucky enough to be trained in questionnaires, taking blood pressure, anthropometry, diabetic foot assessments and so on. Outside of this, a lot of my time is spent organising the next trip, including referral pathways, ordering consumables and planning.
There are also the more research-based aspects, such as preparing ethics applications, reviewing and interpreting data and going through quality assurance processes to ensure data integrity.
As I would like to transition into teaching eventually, the Aboriginal Diabetes Study has offered me a great starting point. Research and teaching go hand-in-hand, and these are my two passions.
Read more about the Aboriginal Diabetes Study