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RANZCO Congress 2023 highlights from Perth

RANZCO has rounded off a jam-packed annual congress in Perth, by welcoming almost 1,500 in-person delegates while welcoming 46 new fellows and recognising Australian ophthalmology’s top trainers. The event was also punctuated with a high-powered speaker line up, with an Australian involved in the 2018 Thai cave rescue and neuro-ophthalmology global authority Dr Neil Miller hosting some of the most well-attended sessions.

The latest data provided by RANZCO at noon Sunday 22 October showed 1,491 delegates attended the congress at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, alongside 243 online attendees.

The trade hall was also a hive of activity, with 141 booths and 60 exhibitors. With sustainability being a focus of the event, RANZCO reached 61% of its delegate carbon offset target, in addition to 400 reusable coffee cups used.

The congress kicked off in a big way on Friday 20 October when 170 attended the Global Eye Health Workshop. The morning of Saturday 21 October then opened with more than 660 delegates attending the morning session, which included the Welcome to Country, Opening Lecture, RANZCO Plenary and Council Lecture.

The trade hall was a hive of activity, with product demonstrations and meaningful connections made between the industry and practitioners.

When delegates reflect on the congress, the Opening Lecture will be a highlight for many reasons. This was hosted by Dr Craig Challen, a retired veterinarian and cave diver who was influential in the rescue of 12 boys trapped in a flooded Thai cave in 2018.

Challen – the joint 2019 Australian of the Year alongside fellow Australian rescuer and anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris – recounted key details of the ordeal that became even more miraculous when you consider the boys were anesthetised with a formulation containing ketamine for the three-hour trip out of the cave.

“To be perfectly frank, we had no hope at all that we were going to get all of these kids out alive, we fully expected casualties – and to be honest – if we lost the whole lot of them, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised,” he said.

Keynote speaker Dr Craig Challen talking about his involvement in the 2018 Thai cave rescue of 12 young boys.

“All of us are going to face a test in our lives which can come in many different forms. It might be difficulties in your professional life, financial or health problems. You might be caught in a war or natural disaster, which in one way you’re completely unprepared for. But in another way, we’ve been preparing our whole lives for these moments, and it’s behoved upon all of us to take the opportunities we’re presented with.”

College update

Meanwhile, the RANZCO Plenary provided an overview of RANZCO’s current activities and priorities. The session was chaired by president Dr Grant Raymond, and featured Dr Kristin Bell, Dr Justin Mora, Dr John Kennedy and Professor Nitin Verma.

Bell delivered an update on some of the biggest issues facing the ophthalmology workforce and access to eyecare in Australia. This was against a backdrop of growing demand for healthcare (which is growing faster than the rate of GDP), inadequate funding of preventative health and poor coordination and funding of chronic diseases.

The RANZCO Plenary chaired by Dr Grant Raymond (right).

Notably, she pointed to the “stagnant” funding of public eyecare, with just 13% of services delivered in the public setting, insufficient accredited training post opportunities, and the threat of closure of public eye departments.

Part of the solution, she said, could be an atlas of healthcare delivery standards to define what services need to be delivered where, and the mandatory reporting of outpatient waitlist data. She also called for greater collaboration across the eye health sector, including a consensus on the roles and scope of each “craft group” i.e. optometry, so the sector can go to government united in its approach, led by ophthalmology.

Kennedy updated fellows on the activities of the Australian and New Zealand Eye Foundation (ANZEF) – RANZCO’s philanthropic arm – with a major focus on increasing the First Nations ophthalmology workforce, which currently stands at one (Dr Kris Rallah-Baker).

Current barriers to First Nations participation include the $50,000-$60,000 cost over five years for registrars for RANZCO’s Vocational Training Program (VTP) and exams. To counter this, ANZEF is providing $30,000 scholarships to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander RANZCO trainees, comprising $10,000 towards the first year, and $5,000 for every year after. Plus, the $1,800 application fee for the VTP has been waived for all First Nations applicants.

RANZCO was a chance for companies like Alcon to present their latest microscope technology.

Finally, the ANZEF Indigenous Award in Ophthalmology at UNSW is offering two Indigenous students $10,000 each to undertake research in the fourth year of medical studies to provide exposure to ophthalmology.

Speaker spotlight

Singapore National Eye Centre’s Professor Tina Wong provided a thought-provoking and entertaining update on glaucoma and trabeculectomies. She discussed the downside of bleb forming surgeries, namely unpredictable scarring. She asked delegates to consider blebs as a “surgically created living organism” that is in constant change and evolution.

Noting Mitomycin C (MCC – an antimetabolite used during the initial stages of a trabeculectomy to prevent scarring) is imperfect, she said the future will lie in the use of targeted collagen remodelling that will help achieve the long-term healthy bleb.

Finally, Miller, the global expert on neuro-ophthalmology from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, gave a jam-packed presentation with many practical take aways for delegates.

He promised several updates that will make ophthalmologists rethink their approach in the field – and he did so, offering the latest clinical insights for acute optic neuritis [as well as chronic relapsing inflammatory optic neuritis (CRION)], visual snow syndrome, Idiopathic intracranial hypertension. Insight will cover this in more detail in the December issue.

Alcon surgical account manager Hamish Buddle with WA ophthalmologist Dr Frederick Nagle.

Graduation and awards

2023 College Award Winners 

College Medal – Prof Nitin Verma
College Medal – A/Prof Alex Hunyor
Distinguished Service Award – Dr Ross Littlewood
Distinguished Service Award – Dr Richard Rawson
Distinguished Service award for service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health – Prof Hugh Taylor
Federal Meritorious Service Award – Prof Nigel Morlet

2023 Trainers of Excellence

Dr Krishna Tumuluri, Sydney Eye Hospital
Dr Tim Henderson, South Australia
Dr Alexandra Crawford, New Zealand
Dr Elsie Chan, Victoria
Dr Antony Clark, Western Australia
Dr Guy Bylsma, Regionally Enhanced Training Network
Dr Fraser Imrie, Queensland
Dr Kimberley Tan, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney

RANZCO also wanted to acknowledge A/Prof Andrew White from the Sydney Eye Hospital Network who also received many votes.

The Filipic-Greer Medal (for overall excellence in the RANZCO Ophthalmic Pathology Examination)

Semester 1, 2020 – Dr Shivesh Varma
Semester 2, 2021 – Dr Neeranjali Jain

A total of 46 new fellows were admitted to the college at the Saturday night Graduation and Awards Ceremony & President’s Reception.

More reading

RANZCO calls for consultation on Vision 2030 and beyond for Aotearoa New Zealand

Changes to college board as RANZCO hails congress ‘reunion buzz’

RANZCO Congress highlights new horizons in ophthalmology


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