On Saturday morning, the much anticipated and very well attended Optical Dispenser Forum took place in a conference room at O=Mega19 at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
The forum was moderated by International Opticians Association (IOA) past president Paul Clarke and had been encouraged by members of the optical industry who were concerned about the wellbeing and future of optical dispensing in Australia.
The audience consisted largely of optical dispensers and other interested parties including educators, dispensing and optometry association representatives, independent practice owners and senior corporate representatives.
After Paul had given a brief history of previous associations within Australia and the formation of a national body in 1994, he reported on the results of a survey link, sent to the profession two weeks before the forum. An encouraging 216 people responded, 172 of which were qualified optical dispensers. There was an even split of male to female and most responders were in full-time employment. Only 25%, however, were currently a member of an association and of those, only a low 16% were satisfied with that membership. Of non-association members, 61% stated they’d love to join an association, while about 75% said they’d like more access to education to keep them up to date with dispensing developments.
Darrell Baker, president of Optometry Australia (OA), spoke up in support of an active dispensing association and the value of the optical dispenser. He said a very skilled DO had mentored him and he’d also worked as one while awaiting registration in the UK. Referencing the OA’s future-looking Optometry 2040 project, he said he felt it was vital to have a robust dispensing profession and the OA would support this new structure in any way possible.
DO-training organisation Tafe’s Steve Daras was impassioned in his plea for dispensers to not sit on their thumbs but to join an association and participate. Fellow DO educator James Gibbins from ACOD encouraged attendees to look to the Association of Dispensing Opticians of New Zealand (ADONZ) to see what an active and engaged association can be. Steve O' Leary, product director for Specsavers ANZ and previously course tutor and examiner for the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) said that they would love to be part of this and encouraged everyone to look for a bigger vision.
Attendees were also encouraged to voice their opinions, with a resounding call for the rejuvenation of the Australian Dispensing Optician Association to make it an active body, which can both lobby the Australian government regarding regulation of the industry (similar to New Zealand and Britain) and provide further dispensing education and networking opportunities.
To drive developments, Ron Baroni, the former Australian country manager for Optometry Giving Sight who has more than 20 years’ experience in the optical industry, offered his services as CEO of the rejuvenated association, initially on a volunteer basis.
We, in New Zealand, wish our Australian counterparts all the best for the challenges ahead and will support them in whichever way we can.
Donald Crichton is a New Zealand-based dispensing optician, vice-president of the International Opticians Association and president of ADONZ and was asked to attend the forum in an advisory capacity.