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Decade of hard work pays off for young entrepreneur

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Wannita Smith is celebrating the tenth anniversary of Spexx, the business she took over from optometrist Antony Siese at the age of 24 (Photograph by Donovin Seymour)

Wannita Smith knew from a young age that she wanted a career in healthcare.

At 24 she went all in, buying the optometry practice she’d worked at for several summers.

She is glad she took the risk. On Saturday Spexx celebrated ten years; Mrs Smith is grateful for all the help she got along the way.

“I am a Christian and I truly believe God has been alongside me throughout this journey. With him and hard work, all things are possible.

“I definitely want to say a thank you to the people that make it happen – my husband, my children, my parents, my staff. I cannot do what I do every day without the other doctor in the office and the support staff and the patients. It's humbling.”

At Elliot Primary, Whitney Institute Middle School and the Berkeley Institute she had an easy time with all her lessons but found she had a real passion for maths and the sciences.

“I was a candy striper when I was younger. So I knew being in the healthcare setting was where I wanted to be. I did initially consider dentistry but after some thought, I realised that wasn't for me,” Mrs Smith said.

“To be honest, I think there was too much blood involved.”

At 16 she had the opportunity to shadow optometrist Antony Siese, who had operated a successful practice since 1978.

“He allowed me to come in for a summer and because he is actually Welsh, he suggested I consider university in the UK.”

She headed off to Aston University in Birmingham to study optometry. In 2009 Mrs Smith wrote to optometrists here hoping to “get information about the industry”.

“Dr Siese was the only one that answered,” she said. “He was, I think at that point, nearing retirement.

“To be honest, a lot of optometrists in Bermuda don't really have a succession plan. So when you find a young person who actually is interested in the industry, you sort of take interest in them. We all get students who come in inquiring about work-shadowing; I usually have at least one or two students every summer. Some stick with it, some move on – that's normal. But when you get one that sticks with it, you hold on to them. So that's sort of what happened with us.”

Wannita Smith (third from left) and the team at Spexx (Photograph by Donovin Seymour)

She returned to work at Antony Siese Ltd every summer. In 2011, after she graduated, she worked in Scotland for a bit before she returned home.

“Probably about a year before I was due to return, Dr Siese offered the opportunity to take over his practice. So that's what I did after I returned in 2012. I officially bought out Dr Siese and started the building of his practice.

“I think my youth allowed me to be a little bit naive in a positive way. I wasn't afraid of the risk because I liked what I was doing whereas I think if I was older, I may have started to second-guess myself. But I jumped right in it.”

She recalls with some amusement the reaction she initially got from patients who did not know her.

“Most patients looked at me when I first started and said, ‘You are a baby.’ And yeah, even now I am still quite young.

“But I've got some patients that have been with me from the absolute beginning, and they're still coming now. Some patients look at having a younger optometrist or a young health healthcare provider as a positive because they feel like you are in the know of the latest [methods].”

Although there were likely some patients who were a bit nervous at being cared for by someone who had only recently earned a degree, her mentor put their minds at rest.

“There was reassurance from Dr Siese. A lot of them were his patients and he definitely tried to provide reassurance – this young lady is coming in; she knows what she's doing. I know that went a long way. I am positive that he was instrumental in reassuring patients that all is well and the transition was smooth from one doctor to another.”

Throughout it all she kept a few pointers in mind that she relies on to this day: “My tips for business success are to do what you love to do; remember your purpose. Listen to feedback, keep learning and don't second-guess yourself.

“Those are the things that I literally go through probably every day.”

Students considering becoming optometrists should have a strong science background, Mrs Smith advised.

When it came time for her to decide which area of healthcare to pursue, she was led by a keen desire to understand how eyes work.

“Some people go into it if they have a personal visual challenge; some optometrists may have been born with a cataract and want to know more. I have worn glasses since I was seven and my siblings didn't. So as I got older, I wondered why that was. That piqued a little bit of interest and when I got into it, I found it was very interesting. So I will say people considering it should be interested in the sciences, how the body works.”

In the past decade there have been great advances in eye care and the technology backing it, Mrs Smith said.

“Many years ago there were only glass lenses. We've now gone to plastic lenses. Frames are more durable; contact lenses allow more oxygen in. We're able to see from an equipment stance into the eye to detect things at an earlier stage. The interactions with ophthalmologists have increased. There are more surgeons than we had many years ago so continued care is much better.”

Greater collaboration with GPs has also helped benefit patients, she added.

“The phrase ‘the window is the eye to the soul’ says a lot. We actually can see quite a lot about your systemic system in the eye – whether it's related to your diabetic health or cholesterol or hypertension. It does definitely tie in with the whole idea of good health, good wellness, trying to be preventive. If we can see things earlier then we can prevent long-term sight loss. It definitely comes full circle.”

Mrs Smith celebrated Spexx’s milestone with patient discounts and giveaways. A party is planned for later in the month. Her main aim however, is to continue all she has done for her patients over the past decade.

“I work hard,” she said. “We went from a two-room, small practice to a practice of two doctors and four support staff. So there's been a good bit of growth over that time which I'm extremely proud of.”

Spexx is located on the ground floor of the International Centre, 26 Bermudiana Road. For more information: www.spexxeyecare.com

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Published October 03, 2022 at 7:36 am (Updated October 04, 2022 at 6:02 am)

Decade of hard work pays off for young entrepreneur

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