Feature, Orthoptics Australia

Orthoptists celebrate the past and future

Milestones are an ideal time to reflect on bygone eras and cast an eye to the future. MARA GIRIBALDI and KRISTEN SABA detail why Orthoptics Australia’s recent annual conference was an important occasion.

The 76th Orthoptics Australia Annual Conference was more than just a celebration of our organisation’s diamond anniversary. Between the record number of attendees and an emphasis on the organisation’s legacy, we are now looking towards an exciting new chapter in our history.

Kristen Saba.

The conference was filled with highlights, but several moments stand out. Paralympian Matt Formston presented the opening address and set the theme for the three days. He is a two-time and current Adaptive Surfing World Champion, as well as a previous World Champion and World record holder in Tandem Cycling, and a 15-time Australian champion across many other sports.

He reminded attendees Australian orthoptists are not just healthcare professionals; they are enablers, ability advocates and supporters who help people achieve their goals.

The outcomes of our resilient, dedicated and inspirational patients were also front and centre, thanks to an art display in the foyer at the International Convention Centre Sydney. Susan Oxenham and Mia Armsworth are vision-impaired artists who both have a unique perspective, and their work opened attendees’ eyes to their inspirational journeys and achievements.

What followed were hours of innovative, cutting-edge and exciting presentations as part of the program assembled by scientific convenor Professor Kathryn Rose and the committee of Dr Amanda French, Susan Silveira and Felicia Adinanto.

Among many other presentations related to orthoptic practice, talks covered topics such as paediatric orthoptics, how to support the care of neurology patients, low vision service delivery and the novel application of applied research methodologies to professional practice.

Mara Giribaldi.

Given the anniversary, it was also an opportunity to reflect on Orthoptics Australia’s history. A book, titled Rear Vision – Celebrating Australia’s Early Orthoptists, which includes biographies of Australia’s first 75 orthoptists, was launched and a slide deck documenting over 100 ‘firsts’ in our history was shown.

It was also an opportunity to welcome Jane Schuller as the organisation’s 54th president. She will be overseeing a period of change as Orthoptics Australia reorganises as a 

company limited by guarantee subject to the Corporations Act 2001 and is registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. This will allow Orthoptics Australia to represent all orthoptists nationwide with members having clearer rights and directors having clearer obligations.

The remarkable achievements of our members were also recognised with three awards at the event.

The Paediatric Orthoptic Award, which was established to commemorate the work and commitment to paediatric orthoptists of Western Australian clinicians Bev Balfour, Megan Lewis, and Alison Terril, was awarded to Navdeep Kaur. Her presentation, Orthoptist-led Neurofibromatosis Type 1 Clinic at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne: A strategy for impact, was selected as the best paediatric paper this year.

UTS Orthoptics post graduate student Shanelle Sorbello was awarded the Emmie Russell Memorial Prize for her presentation titled Post Stroke vision care in NSW: What are the care pathways and are they working?. Initiated by Emmie Russell, one of Australia’s first and most highly regarded orthoptists, the award is presented to the best presentation by a graduate orthoptist.

This year the Zoran Georgievski Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to outgoing Orthoptics Australia president Marion Rivers. The award recognises a member of Orthoptics Australia for their substantial contribution to furthering the profession through factors such as service, leadership, and innovation. During her leadership she was the key driving force for many transformational changes for the organisation.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Since graduating in 1994, Mara’s main clinical focus has been in the area of ocular diagnostics, photography, angiography and retinal clinical research trials. Mara is currently Associate Lecturer and External Liaison Officer at UTS Orthoptics and Convenor of the recent OA Conference.
Kristen graduated in 2005 and worked clinically for many years in the area of adult strabismus and is involved in the ongoing training of ophthalmology registrars. Kristen has also taught as a clinical practitioner at UTS Discipline of Orthoptics and was Co-Convenor of the recent OA Conference.