Report, Soapbox

Focus on professional development during isolation

While many health practitioners have played a critical role on the frontline dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the challenges they have faced have attracted fewer headlines.

A question the Optometry Board of Australia (the Board) has consistently been asked from practitioners across Australia is how to maintain the requirements for ongoing professional development during this time.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is a requirement for all practitioners as set out under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, and the registration standards and guidelines established by each of the National Boards. The current environment has forced conferences and other face-to-face events to be cancelled, putting a real dent in the plans of most practitioners.

A few words of advice: Don’t worry. The Board will be understanding if you genuinely have trouble meeting your CPD requirements during the current registration period amid the downturn in professional development activities. It will take this into account when it comes time to make your declaration during registration renewal later this year.

For many practitioners, a reduced consulting environment provides a real opportunity to focus on upcoming changes to the CPD registration standard. In 2019, Health Ministers approved a significant change to the registration standards and guidelines for several professions, including optometry, which will provide far greater flexibility for practitioners.

The new standard emphasises a need for practitioners to reflect on their personal professional development needs and seek out opportunities to undertake CPD. You will need to reflect on how these activities have influenced your practice and, ultimately, how they benefit patients and the wider community seeking optometric care.

From 1 December 2020, you will only need to record the hours you spend on these activities and not worry about points as you have in the past. Key elements include the requirement to reflect on your personal needs, critically assessing the quality of the materials and the resulting effect on your practice.

The new standard acknowledges that adult learning and professional development can occur in many different ways. Even learning about what we need to do regarding COVID-19, its transmission and how to implement higher levels of infection control is considered professional development. I encourage practitioners to record what you have read and how it will affect your practices not only now but in the future.

There will remain a need for optometrists to interact with others, as this facilitates important peer-to-peer learning. While we all miss conferences and other large meetings as a way to catch up on the latest developments in education, socialise with colleagues and chat about the profession and wider industry, there are still ways of achieving meaningful professional development including how the new requirements can be facilitated by the available technology. During this time we are getting the opportunity to become comfortable using online systems and resources and we will benefit from the additional flexibility when we become so very busy again.

As we are coming to appreciate, much can be done through the use of Zoom, Skype and other virtual interactive meeting apps. With the new standard taking effect in summer, now is an ideal time to begin using the range of online resources including journals, webinars and other tools provided by traditional and non-traditional education sources.

In addition to the resources on the Board’s website explaining how the new CPD standard will work, CPD providers will also be able to help meet your individual needs. Your professional association, special interest groups, educators and the wider optical industry have launched a range of new and exciting CPD activities.

I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities this unique environment presents. Get online and familiarise yourself with the new requirements of the standard and read the guidance material. Use your time wisely and learn as much as you can about how your CPD will change. That will mean you will be very well positioned when the new standard takes effect on 1 December.

I look forward to catching up with many of you at next year’s conferences as we anticipate life returning to normal. These events always re-energise my interest and provide something to think about that hadn’t previously occurred to me. Take care and stay safe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Name: Ian Bluntish
Qualifications: BOptom, MBA, FACO, MAICD, JP
Business: Holdfast Bay Optometry
Position: Chair, Optometry Board of Australia
Location: Glenelg, South Australia.
Years in the profession: 40