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Australia’s optical dispensers commit to rebuild

24/07/2019By Callum Glennen
Australia’s optical dispensers have met in Melbourne to discuss the future of the profession, as well as the exact requirements to overcome the lethargy that has held back the sector for years.

The industry-wide meeting, conducted on 20 July at the inaugural O=MEGA fair, sought to initiate the process of establishing an effective national representation for the country’s optical dispensers. A focus was on providing opportunities for professional development, as well as building national recognition that dispensing is a complex profession that requires specialist expertise.

Mr Paul Clarke, inaugural president of the Australian Dispensing Opticians Association (ADOA) and former president of the International Opticians Association, moderated the meeting. He emphasised that the event was an opportunity to focus on solutions, rather than a chance to attribute blame for past problems.

However, he also acknowledged that “things are not going right” for optical dispensing in Australia, with countries such as the UK, Canada and New Zealand home to strong, productive dispensing bodies. He said that since optical dispensing was deregulated in the 1980s, and following the establishment of the ADOA in 1994, the sector had gradually declined.

To combat this, Clarke proposed a rejuvenation of the ADOA that would focus on furthering optical dispensing through lobbying and improving professional standards. He also called for members of Australia’s dispensing community to volunteer to help work towards this goal.

Additionally, he also said that the organisation is unlikely to achieve this without a paid, full-time manager. Mr Ron Baroni,  former Australian country manager for Optometry Giving Sight, was  in attendance and offered his services for this role, initially on  a volunteer basis.

Paul Clarke
Paul Clarke
“It’s up to all of us to step up and do it. No-one is going to do it for us at all, the only people who are going to get optical dispensing up and running in this country is us”
Paul Clarke, moderator

Many of the industry figures in attendance shared their support for the initiative. Mr Darrell Baker, president of Optometry Australia (OA), said his organisation fully supported the project and would be willing to provide any help that is requested. He also encouraged those in attendance to plan for the future, as well as utilise the findings of OA’s Optometry 2040 report in order to anticipate the direction eyecare is going.

Mr Steve O’Leary, director of products for Specsavers Australia & New Zealand, also stated his support both personally and on behalf of Specsavers. He said that those in attendance must build a “big vision”, and that a Certificate IV should be the minimum standard expected of an optical dispenser.

Education was a particularly important subject with Mr James Gibbins, director of the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing, and Mr Steve Daras, optical dispensing course coordinator for TAFE NSW and current director of the ADOA, both emphasising the importance of education in maintaining professional standards, as well as the foundation of a strong organisation.

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“I didn’t expect anywhere near this amount of people and there was obvious passion out there, and it’s exciting,” Clarke told Insight at the conclusion of the meeting.

“I think we have the right man on the job with Ron Baroni, so we’ve got structure now. We’ve got ideas, we’ve got passion, and we’ve got agreement from corporate [optometry businesses]. We didn’t get any of the heckling that I thought we might get.”

Also presented at the meeting were the results of the O=MEGA19 Optical Dispensing Forum Survey, which was distributed ahead of the event in order to inform discussion.

More than 210 people completed the survey, the vast majority of which were qualified optical dispensers.

The survey revealed broad dissatisfaction with leadership across the sector, with 80% claiming they are not currently members of an optical dispensing association. Of those who were a member, more than half were “neither satisfied or unsatisfied” with the performance of their association.

For the question “Is dispensing valued?”, 47% of respondents said the profession is somewhat undervalued and 24% said it was not valued at all.

However, the results of the survey also showed willingness for growth. There was significant interest expressed in both ongoing education sessions and a system of formal recognition for completing these courses.

Additionally, a majority of respondents indicated they would join a professional association if they could see value in it, and 62.5% said they would be willing to volunteer to help advance an active association.

Clarke said these results proved that there is no excuse for the lack of a great organisation for optical dispensers in Australia.

“It’s up to all of us to step up and do it. No-one is going to do it for us at all, the only people who are going to get optical dispensing up and running in this country is us, the optical dispensers.

“That’s going to be the challenge at the end of this meeting.”


More reading:

Dispensing shake up predicted after years of inactivity
“Fresh blood” helps reunite dispensing associations
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