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NEXTGEN: Picking up the passion of opticianry

Courtney Thornborrow finds rewards in opticianry through the reactions she sees from “first-time wearers.”

Be it children or those who have yet to experience vision correction, the reward is knowing when they’ve experienced that moment of clarity.

“Suddenly they put on glasses and their world has changed,” says Thornborrow, who manages the opticianry side of Waterdown Optical near Hamilton, Ont.

“I love fitting children. That’s probably my favourite because once they try the glasses on, having not known, it’s so authentic. You know you’ve done something right when a kid puts on a pair of glasses and their reaction, it’s priceless. It keeps me going.”

Thornborrow has spent the past four years at Waterdown Optical, where her father owns and operates the optometry practice.

Thornborrow got into the industry later than most, starting her schooling in opticianry at 28 after finishing a double major in criminology and sociology at Western University.

She became a licensed optician in 2014 and Thornborrow says before taking that path she felt “a bit lost” career-wise until she sat down with her father. He explained how opticianry might be a good fit, from the sense of fashion to the practical side of the career.

“I knew a bit about it because I’d worked at my dad’s office before, but I didn’t really know too much about opticianry,” she says.

But once she got into the training, she excelled in her schooling where she didn’t at university and “absolutely loved the program” from the hands-on aspect, to the theory, which made college an excellent fit.

But she didn’t want to just fall back to her father’s office after her school and planned to “dabble in different industries” to learn about opticianry through her own personal experiences.

Le Beau Optical, a boutique store in Oakville, gave her a chance to meet what would become a mentor of hers in owner Martin Lebeau. She said his grasp of optics, the need to match frames to a client’s prescription and his knowledge of sales and service were all huge rewards for Thornborrow during her time there.

“Finding the correct pair of glasses for a prescription was so important to him. He really honed the skill to pick an appropriate frame for people’s prescriptions and how to do it right the first time.”

She then changed gears by working at Costco Optical Centre. This again was a major learning experience for her with a change in the type of clientele, to the type of product, with less time for education-focused sales.

“With Costco, people want a less-expensive pair of glasses, so the volume was there and you got to see a lot of people over an hour period of time.”

Thornborrow says Costco’s focus on contact lens fitting was prominent and became her favourite part of the job at that time.

Thornborrow then decided to return to work at her father’s practice with the experience she’d gained and “could not be happier” for it. Since she returned, her focus has been developing relationships with clients.

“It’s exactly what I’d look for in a career. As an optician I get everything I need from that environment.”

Thornborrow says she enjoys the problem-solving aspect of the industry, so when a patient comes back with an issue, pinpointing what is going wrong is a challenge she enjoys. Is it a frame, lens, or prescription issue?

“I like to find out why people aren’t seeing well and then correct it. Because once you come up with a solution, then you have a customer for life and they have a reason to trust you because their vision is important to them, and it’s important to us.”