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Published by admin, 2021-08-18 00:32:57

Shajan chronicle

Shajan chronicle



AUGUST 2021 | ISSUE 10 PAGE 01



At the age of 9, I missed the mark and a stone bounced back from a tree and hit my right eye.
At the hospital, I read the letters on the vision chart one by one despite the pain and watering.
The doctor then patched my eye. This was my first experience with eye care. Little did I know
that one day I too will wear a white coat and conduct eye exams. This incident probably
designed my destiny.

I grew up in Kerala and belonged to a humble middle-class family of academicians. I
completed my early education in a government school. Post that, I went on to pursue my under
graduation in science, since graduation was a minimum qualification one had to acquire in
Kerala at that point of time. My uncle was the dean of a leading college in Kerala and a
“legend” in Zoology, and this got me interested in Zoology. But, there were more number of
graduates than coconut trees in Kerala. Therefore, I kept looking for other career options
related to allied health sciences. My first year in BSc. Zoology was a major turning point as that
was when I stumbled up on the 1-year ophthalmic assistant course, an effort initiated to bridge
the shortage of human resources in preliminary eye care services. Back then, ophthalmic
assistants were meant to do refraction, assist ophthalmologists in the surgical theaters, deliver
primary eye care services and support eye hospitals in conducting vision screening camps in
remote areas. I discontinued by graduation program and went on to pursue the ophthalmic
assistant course from Joseph Eye Hospital, Trichy, Tamil Nadu. This experience changed my life
and I could sense the need for human resources in the eye care segment in India. As I was a
sponsored candidate from one of the eye hospitals in Kerala, I went back to the hospital and
provided eye care services to the rural community for over 3.5 years. Although my earnings were
less, the satisfaction was immense when serving the poor and marginalized communities.
Those were the finest days of my life and it was then I acquired some of my optometry skills.
But, I felt the need to pursue higher studies and started checking various options.

Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

AUGUST 2021 | ISSUE 10 PAGE 02

In my mid-20s, I wanted to pursue a bachelors in optometry but, there were only a handful of
institutions, with limited number of seats. So, I applied to Christian Medical College (CMC) and
Research Institute in Vellore, a prominent name in the health care sector. There were only 4
seats allotted to optometry admissions of which only two seats were for general category. After
a written exam and an interview, I was inducted in to the 2-year diploma program in
optometry. There was a lot of practical exposure in the first few months but, it was only after 3-
4 months we were allowed to touch the most precious instrument for an optometrist, the
retinoscope. Not many had access to streak retinoscopy at that time, but we did at CMC,
Vellore. It was a great experience for me to be a part of CMC and I had the opportunity to work
with some of the best ophthalmologists. In 2 years’ time we became good in refraction and
optical dispensing. However, we lacked clinical and diagnostic skills as the scope for optometry
was confined to refraction, primarily. After 2- years, as per the advice of my guru Dr Thomas
Kuriakose , colleagues and seniors, I decided to pursue a fellowship to improve my
clinical/diagnostic skills and excel in vision sciences. I decided to motor at this time and behold
optometry fellowship as a propeller to my career growth. I went on to pursue fellowship in L V
Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), Hyderabad in 1995.

I vividly remember the interview. There
were over 60 prospective candidates
from many leading institutes. As LVPEI
was well-known and with over 60
prospective candidates, the entrance
exam felt nothing less than a medical
entrance interview for me. I was
interviewed by Dr. Vijay Kumari Gothwal
(Head, Meera & L B Deshpande Center
for Sight Enhancement) and Mr.
Ghanshyam Singh. My fellowship
journey at LVPEI was quite fascinating.
The refraction skills I acquired from
CMC came in handy. I was eager to
learn diagnostic and clinical skills,
especially slit-lamp, in the first few days
of my fellowship. It was a dream come
true to see endothelial cells for the first

I was surprised and elated to see my seniors and other optometrists use a gonioscope, 90D and
78D fundus lenses daily in the clinics. These were used only by ophthalmologists at CMC, Vellore
and that is when realized that I was in the right place. Our days started with early morning CME
sessions and then OPD which went on till 6.30 pm, at times. I had to put in extra efforts to
understand clinical concepts and hence ended up spending most of my time in the library.
Since I was still in the budding stages of my theoretical knowledge, I often found my myself in
very jitty positions during journal clubs. We had great opportunities to work with the “bigges” of
optometry like Mrs. Lakshmi Shinde (CEO of Optometry Council of India) and Dr. Padmaja
Sankaridurg (Head of Myopia Program and Intellectual Property Manager at Brien Holden Vision
Institute), Ms. Rashmi Gora, Mr. Vallam Srinivas and Mr. Ghanshyam Singh and they contributed
a lot to these discussions.

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AUGUST 2021 | ISSUE 10 P A G E 0 23

We had a good team of 30 students pursuing the fellowship. As knowledge and responsibility
go hand in hand, within 6- months I was given the responsibility of managing other
optometry fellows, under the guidance of Dr Vijayakumari, which was a huge achievement for
me. I had the opportunity to work in the teams of Dr Anil Mandal, Dr Satish Gupta, Dr G
Chandra Sekhar, Dr Madukar Reddy, Dr Tara Prasad Das, Dr Subrdra Jalali, Dr Santhosh
Honawar, Dr AK Bansal. Working with colleagues like Mr. Vallam Srinivas (who was in charge
of diagnostics) and others was really eye opening for me as I had never seen an optometrist
performing vital diagnostic test such as B-scan, FFA, visual fields etc. Our fellowship days were
mix of study, joy and shared sorrows—all mixed in right levels. We were probably the first and
the last batch to organize a trip for all DOT and optometry fellows to the outskirts of Andhra
Pradesh (now Telangana) and the memories of this one-day trip is still fresh.

During my fellowship, I was a part of a few research studies with Dr Vijayakumari, who played
a key role in moulding me and we published a few papers. I was also involved in research
projects with Moorfield Eye Institute, UK on congenital eye anomalies and published a good
number of papers in peer-reviewed journals like British Journal of Ophthalmology (BJO),
Indian Journal of Ophthalmology (IJO), etc. I was closely involved in the works for Center for
Sight Enhancement (CSE)which was handled by Dr. Khan and Dr Vijaya, back then.

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2-years of fellowship gave me a great exposure to clinical skills and I garnered enough
confidence working in different clinics. Another key achievement was my posting in the
contact lens clinic where the fine art of fitting rigid and soft contact lenses in addition to
specialty lenses were taught. LVPEI was one of the few centres in India to get Silsoft lenses for
high plus powers (aphakia correction for children), back then. The eminent ophthalmology
team led by Dr. GN Rao kept pushing optometrists to bring out their best.
Finally, all the hard work paid off and I won the Best Outgoing Student Award at the end of
my fellowship. I joined LVPEI as an employee in the contact lens research wing and worked till
1999.LVEPI changed my life. Thanks to those who took efforts to support me. I will also
remember Dr GN Rao forever for his noble initiative in establishing this institute of excellence.
This is why I keep advising optometrists to pursue fellowships and other programs to enrich

Besides work, I also wanted to travel and
explore other parts of India. Growing up
in Kerala, pursuing optometry in Tamil
Nadu and Hyderabad, I had covered
most of the south Indian states. I
wanted to explore the north too. My
batch mate, Sujoy Debnath, who joined
Bausch and Lomb(B&L) suggested me to
be a part of the corporate sector. I made
a personal trip to Delhi and happened
to meet the officials in B&L India-the
leading contact lens company. During
my interview in the Bausch and Lomb
office, I got a chance to meet Mr J P
Singh (head of Bausch and Lomb). He
spoke to me for a few minutes , asked
me a few questions and invited me to
attend a conference with the team at
Nagpur, even though I wasn’t their
employee yet. I was wowed by their
team and the roles and responsibilities
of their optometrists. This helped me
decide to take up a career in the
corporate sector. I joined Bausch and
Lomb as a professional service executive
in Gujarat. After I became a senior sales
executive, I got to move back to Kerala.
However, this role raised a big question
in me - optometrist being a sales
manager? But, the induction and
orientation provided were exciting and

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During my tenure as a senior sales executive, I was able to enhance several contact lens
practices and also worked with the Kerala Optometric Association to create more awareness
about contact lens practice among optometrists in Kerala. The strong clinical exposure of
LVPEI, the commercial skills and business acumen acquired in B&L worked together for me to
do well in the assigned roles. Working in the corporate sector gave me several opportunities to
meet and interact with renowned ophthalmologists. optometrists and leading opticians and
businesses and I experienced the business side of the eye care sector. These interactions
helped me polish my professional and managerial skills, team work and leadership skills. The
corporate sector, though challenging gave me some financial freedom and helped me to
support my family. After 3.5 years, I moved back to Kerala as a sales and customer relation
manager. Having spent over 5 years in the contact lens industry, I wanted to explore the other
side of eye care business, the spectacle lens sector. The biggest chunk of business was
happening in the spectacle lens industry being handled by sales personnel with no
formal/institutional training unfortunately.

Life took another turn in 2005 and I joined Essilor, the leading lens manufacturer. I received
technical training/exposure to labs and was also sent to France to see their R&D and global
manufacturing facilities to understand the nuances of the spectacle lens industry. In my 17-
years at Essilor, I handled Professional services, sales and marketing and played my role in
uplifting the standards of optical dispensing in India though our various actions.

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Being a thorough professional company,
Essilor offers several internal training
programs so that we can train the varied
eye care personnel in the market. One
such program is the Varilux Academy
Asia-Pacific (VAAP) program. The VAAP
program benefited many eye-care
practitioners and we started recruiting
many optometrists and helped them
build a career in Essilor. I strongly feel
that optometrists can take up bigger
responsibilities by blending their clinical
knowledge with corporate experiences.
Essilor plays a pivotal role in
modernizing eye care practices by
introducing new tools, products, and a
business curriculum to eyecare
practitioners. Today, we have over 100
optometrists working with Essilor to
support eye care practitioners and
industries for offering best and most
suitable vision solutions to their

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Although there are few good courses
available, I think the role of an
optometrist in the field of dispensing is
still in its budding stages. So, we have a
great opportunity in India. Digital
dispensing is one of the areas that has
remained unexplored and has a huge
scope of improvement, as only 10% of
the optometrists take up this field.
Essilor plays a major role in bringing
awareness among optometrists by
offering technical trainings and
educating them on the roles they can
play in dispensing spectacle lenses in a
most scientific way. The future of
dispensing in optometry is very bright,
but we have long way to go.

I encourage optometry students to visit
lens manufacturing labs and other
facilities to get a holistic
understanding of the art, craft and
science of lens making, dispensing and
opportunities etc. A lot goes behind
making a perfectly finished product
and optometrists play a pivotal role in
every step of this craft. I am proud of
what I am today and of my
contributions to optometry/trade and
my efforts in guiding young
optometrists. I worked closely with all
major optometry associations to make
the sessions more scientific and
exciting for the participants. I also
presented on several topics on national
and international platforms.

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Lastly, its not the money or wealth we acquire that matters but the time we spent with our
dear ones. Your contributions to the underprivileged and the strong friendships made gives you
the most satisfaction. So, I consider myself one of the richest optometrists in the country. Let's
not forget those who cannot afford quality eye care and try our best to give them the attention
and service they deserve. Let’s give back to the community that has given us so much.
Finally, I thank each and every one who supported, inspired, criticized, and motivated me to
make me what I am today.
Thanks to God almighty for all the blessings, care provided. Hope to see you all doing well.
Long-live Optometry!

I would like to thank ALO for providing an avenue to showcase my story.

Do you know a friend or a peer whose story is worth sharing? Please recommend them to us at
[email protected] so that we can reach out to them.

Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

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