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Getting to know RANZCO’s new president

The incoming RANZCO president says the college’s responsibility is far greater than education, but also extends into protecting the place of ophthalmologists in health systems, patient outcomes and ensuring eye health professionals, including optometrists, have access to the latest advances in the field.

Associate Professor Nitin Verma, who assumes the presidency on 10 October, reflected on the function of ophthalmologists and the college in a wide-ranging interview with his wife Ms Anu Verma, a retired engineer, released online to college Fellows last week.

In the nine-minute clip, the Tasmania-based ophthalmologist discusses his Indian heritage, experience in advanced and disadvantaged countries where he “learned to do a lot with less”, and his admiration for outgoing president Associate Professor Heather Mack. He also talks of his interest in equity for First Nations People in Australia and New Zealand.

‘Ophthalmologists are blessed’

When quizzed on the role of ophthalmologists, Verma said it was more complex than being a specialist trained in surgical methods, lasers and medical treatment for eye conditions.

Instead, it involves careful treatment of the whole patient, while fulfilling roles in management, education, patient advocacy, research and administration for eye departments in universities and general hospitals.

“The journey of a patient with an eye problem is not straightforward because they are often referred to us by general practitioners, by other colleagues, by optometrists, and when they do come to us, our team includes technicians, nurses, orthoptists, and so on,” Verma, who has been a long-term member of the RANZCO Board and vice president between 2018-19, said.

“So the patient actually has a long way to go. The ophthalmologist orchestrates the whole process, making sure that at the end of it, the best possible outcomes are achieved for the patient.”

Heather Mack will end her presidency on 10 October.

Verma has seen inequality around the globe, but he believes as the world has become smaller, communication has improved. This has made it easier to transfer skills and knowledge to places that require it most.

“This whole thing sits on the shoulders of eyecare because we people are trusted, and we always find opportunities to do more than just eyecare, by improving the lot of a person, by moving them up the socioeconomic ladder,” he said.

“By improving their eyesight, I think we have the capacity to do a lot, and I think that’s what I found very, very useful. The ability to transfer all this, that one knows, to simplify it, to teach somebody else, and make themselves efficient, I think ophthalmologists are blessed because they can do these things.”

The college’s responsibility 

In terms of RANZCO’s primary functions, Verma said while the college plays a major role in education, it is also responsible for after patient outcomes. It also looks after the place of ophthalmologists in healthcare systems across Australia and New Zealand.

He believes the college is well-placed following the presidency of Mack who’s done “so much for the standards of governance and making sure processes are robust, processes are transparent, and processes are fair”.

“[RANZCO] looks at the interest of our members. We help each other. We teach each other, we learn from each other, and we make sure that we move forward together,” he said.

“We recognise the diversity in the land that we live in, both in New Zealand and Australia. We need to look at the community. We need to look at their wellbeing, and we need to also advocate for them at every level.”

He continued: “We need to make sure that … education is current, and that all healthcare professionals, especially eye health professionals, in this country, whether they are optometrists, whether they’re general practitioners, whether they are other specialists, are able to access the new things, or access the research that allows ophthalmology and eyecare to move forward. That is a responsibility of the college, also.”

Closing the Gap

Verma is originally from India where he studied and trained, before moving to study in Europe. He has been practising in Australia for the past three decades and has been in private practice at Hobart Eye Surgeons for the past 15 years. He’s a Professor at the University of Tasmania School of Medicine and head of ophthalmology at the Royal Hobart Hospital. He is also a Clinical Professor in Ophthalmology in the University of Sydney.

Part of his career was spent in Darwin where he worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“One of the initiatives that’s very dear to me is Closing the Gap,” he said.

“[RANZCO] is one of the original endorsers of the roadmap for Closing the Gap for vision, and its annual update is launched at RANZCO Congress each year. Soon, we’ll also be launching our Māori action plan. New Zealand is often seen as the exemplar of equality, but there’s more to be done to ensure true equity of access for Māori and Pacifika. I hope that you’ll join me on this journey, as well as be part of many of the other initiatives that we’ll be embarking on over the next few years.”

  • Editor’s note: A full transcript can be found here and the video here. Stay tuned for the September issue of Insight where Associate Professor Heather Mack reflects on her presidency in our regular Soapbox column.

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