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HomeminewsOrthoptics Students Need to Seek New Home

Orthoptics Students Need to Seek New Home

The Masters in Orthoptics course currently run from University of Sydney will cease to exist once students who commenced the program in 2013 have graduated.

The course, which has been conducted from the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, was not offered in 2014 due to a misalignment with the University’s new strategic direction.

Sue Silveira, a member of the Orthoptics Australia Tertiary Education Working Party, said the decision to cancel the course was no fault of the Discipline of Orthoptics staff.

“The program has been under threat for a while. The strategic direction of the University of Sydney is to have a very high research output and with a small health program like Orthoptics, it’s difficult to fund the number of high level staff you need to both undertake research and teaching.”

If the number of orthoptists decreases … the early identification of eye disease in all age groups will be compromised, with the potential for an increase in vision impairment in the Australian population

She said the University of Sydney has been assisting Orthoptics Australia to find a new institution to take on the course.

“Since informing our profession of the discontinuation of the course, the administration of the Faculty of Health Sciences has been supportive in making links with other institutions. We’ve had a number of productive meetings. The Faculty’s senior staff have accompanied us to key meetings with other institutions that might take on the course. They have committed to passing on the current equipment and curriculum to the new provider which will support establishment of a new course.

Former president of Orthoptics Australia, NSW Branch and specialist orthoptist Ann Macfarlane, said if a new institution cannot be found in NSW, the impact on eyecare in Australia and more broadly will be significant. The only other institution to offer orthoptics in the Southern Hemisphere is La Trobe University.

Australia Trains Southern Hemisphere

“There are different models of orthoptic practice around the world, and Australia’s differs from most because our education is very broad based,” said Ms. Macfarlane.

“Orthoptists educated here go off to work in New Zealand and Asia as well as around Australia. Also, Australian orthoptic education programs are very attractive for international students.”

“We have the ophthalmic technical expertise to provide the ophthalmologist with essential information required in the management of eye diseases such as glaucoma, and to provide patient education. Orthoptists also work extensively in paediatrics, including community and public health, and work in eye clinics in metro, regional and overseas locations. As specialists we often work with people with extensive disabilities and injury to identify eye conditions and vision impairment. We also provide support and educate these people and the multidisciplinary health teams which are managing their rehabilitation. Patient communication and education are very important aspects of our work,” said Ms. Macfarlane.

There are currently over 700 orthoptists Australia-wide (up from 471 in 2006) who are employed in a wide range of public, private and non-government organisations. Ms. Silveira said she expects demand for orthoptists will continue to grow to meet the eyecare needs of an increasing Australian population, including an identified ageing population at high risk of eye disease.

“If the number of orthoptists decreases because we can’t provide education, the early identification of eye disease in all age groups will be compromised, with the potential for an increase in vision impairment in the Australian population.”

She said Orthoptics Australia is currently in discussion with two institutions that are interested in taking on the orthoptics course. “We hope to have a decision mid year, in which case we potentially will be able to offer a course from 2015.”

She said in the meantime, enquires for orthoptics education are being directed to La Trobe University.