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The surprising success story behind 'Ophthalmology Updates!'

From small beginnings, Ophthalmology Updates! has quickly become a must-attend conference for many subspecialists. Associate Professor Adrian Fung, the event’s organiser, spoke to Insight about its origins and why he runs it.

Since the inaugural event held in 2016, Ophthalmology Updates! has year after year increased in both size and scope. Despite the success, the conference has clung to its roots as a not for profit event. Ahead of this year’s assembly, which will be held 24-25 August at the Westin Hotel, Sydney, conference organiser Mr Adrian Fung spoke to Insight about its humble origins and rapid development.

Where did Ophthalmology Updates! originate from?

For many years I’ve been attending an annual retinal conference called the Midwest Ocular Angiography Conference. Organised by Professor Bill Mieler, a single retinal specialist from Chicago, I’ve always been impressed by how well it has been run. Delegates return year after year, discussion is integral to the meeting and the social events provide an opportunity for interaction outside of the formal sessions. These are the qualities that I wanted for Ophthalmology Updates!.

After returning from two and a half years of retinal fellowship in USA and Canada, I noticed that whilst my knowledge in that field had improved significantly, I was starting to forget things from outside of the retinal domain. As a registrar we have weekly ‘eye school’ teaching, but this doesn’t exist for consultants.

"The reward I get is the enjoyment of inviting new speakers and learning from them every year"
Adrian Fung, Conference organiser

I felt that as an ophthalmologist I had a responsibility to keep up to date with the whole of ophthalmology, not just my subspecialty. In the past sub-specialisation was less common, but there has been a trend for registrars to do fellowship training in their final year, which has accentuated this situation.

Ophthalmology Updates! is ideally positioned to help subspecialists brush-up on topics outside their usual sphere of work, whilst offering general ophthalmologists a varied selection of topics. I’ve even heard some delegates call it “Eye school for consultants”!

The key structure of the conference has remained the same: all major ophthalmic subspecialty topics covered by expert speakers allocated one hour each. This hour is broken down into a common revision topic, frontier topic and interesting cases, and allows sufficient time for in-depth discussion. I’ve always endeavoured to keep the topics and discussion clinically relevant and free from industry bias.

Who organises the conference?

Me! Well, not quite. The first few years I did almost everything myself: developed the website, setup the paypal payment, designed the logo and marketing material, booked the venue, dinner and social event, invited the speakers, answered delegate emails and engaged the sponsors and media. I had no idea if anyone would come or even if I’d be able to pay for the venue. It was high risk, and a lot of work went into it behind the scenes.

Carl Zeiss

I’m still central to the organising but I’m aware that the most successful meetings are a team effort. There are topics and speakers that I don’t have expertise in, which is why a scientific committee has been established. This committee has the expertise to suggest future topics and invite speakers, whilst maintaining the core principles of the meeting. On the weekend of the conference we have a wonderful team of volunteers, often junior doctors interested in ophthalmology, who come and help.

What has the response been?

We’ve been very fortunate to have overwhelming support from delegates, speakers, industry, media, RANZCO, ASO, Orthoptics Australia, the University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District. In our first year we had 100 delegates, in our second year 150 delegates and last year we had 200 delegates.

Much of this growth has been word of mouth and is a testament to the quality of the speakers. The meeting is increasingly being recognised outside of Sydney, and it has been wonderful to welcome interstate and international delegates. Our sponsors (this year Allergan, Bayer, Novartis, Alcon and Nexus) have always been generous and supportive – without their financial support the meeting would not be possible. We would also like to thank RANZCO, Eye2Eye, ASO, Insight and MiVision for their assistance marketing the conference.

The meeting has Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accreditation from RANZCO and Orthoptics Australia.

What happens to the registration fees?

The venue, dinner, social event, marketing and speaker flights and accommodation all have to be paid for. We have always endeavoured to keep registration fees as low as possible. I have never paid myself a salary for organising the meeting, despite the fact that the equivalent work by a professional event organiser would be very expensive.

The reward I get is the enjoyment of inviting new speakers and learning from them every year. Any profits from the conference are either re-invested to make the subsequent year’s meeting even better, or donated.

What is in store for the future of Ophthalmology Updates!?

I’m hoping that Ophthalmology Updates! will continue to grow its reputation as one of the most clinically useful education weekends in the ophthalmic calendar year. We welcome delegates from all spheres of eyecare – ophthalmologists, registrars, orthoptists, optometrists and nurses.

We will continue to source the best speakers from around Australia and the world, keeping the topics clinically relevant. As the field of ophthalmology progresses, so will the need for ongoing learning and discussion. With its unique format, I believe Ophthalmology Updates! complements rather than competes against the excellent ophthalmic meetings which already exist.

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