Optometry South Australia’s annual Blue Sky Congress has developed something of a reputation for innovation over the years. There are those fun themes – this year, it was Lucy in the (Blue) Sky with Diamonds, complete with Optometry SA CEO Libby Boschen’s red 1964 MG taking centre stage in the exhibition area, and master of ceremonies Gary Edwards resplendent in peace symbols and a shaggy wig. And then there was the education…
Education, of course, is at the heart of SA Blue Sky and over many years the organisers of this conference have become well known for pioneering significant initiatives to enhance its delivery, which in turn have been taken up by others in the profession. The use of interactive keypads for in-session learning assessment was perhaps the most notable… until last year. In November 2014, SA Blue Sky introduced a complementary education stream for dispensers alongside the optometry education stream. The initiative was hailed as a runaway success by delegates and exhibitors alike.
Grant Hannaford, a past President of the Australian Dispensing Opticians Association (ADOA), said the decision to include a dispenser education program, designed by dispensers and in consultation with ADOA, was an overdue opportunity to bridge the gap between the two branches of the industry.
“For so long, there’s been an inability to acknowledge that we [dispensers and optometrists] both exist in the same practice,” Mr Hannaford said. “This is the right step forward to develop continuity in the patient experience.”
Optometry SA CEO Libby Boschen said the addition of an optical dispensers’ education stream reflected the increasingly complex role of frontline staff and the need for optometrists and dispensers to be working as an effective team.
“It makes sense to provide a program that recognises the specialised education needs of both, as well as promoting the critical professional and business benefits that come from a better mutual understanding,” she said.
Dispenser attendees included practice owners, employed staff and managers representing some of the larger corporate dispensers in the sector. Training Manager for The Optical Superstore, Lesley Stephenson, said she attended to evaluate the program’s worth for her state managers and dispensing staff. By the end of the first day, she said she’d learnt a lot herself and was already planning for a large group of delegates to attend next year.
Among the most popular presentations in the dispensing stream were Steve Daras’ presentation on the latest dispensing technology, and Gary Edwards and David Welch talking about building business by creating trusting customers.
The optometry education stream featured US academic and practitioner Dr. Richard Madonna, who presented a popular series of provocative clinical grand rounds and spoke about his area of research in glaucoma.
Dr. Madonna said he found the SA Blue Sky Congress to be quite different from his other conference experiences. “The model of this conference – ‘the only thing we take seriously is the education’ – really came through, and people seemed to be really having a tremendously good time, but then were serious when it was time to be serious,” he said, adding that the organisation and speaker support had been “fantastic”.
Dr. Sally Cockburn (otherwise known as Dr. Feelgood) presented a session on advocacy for a healthy approach to life, and delegates said they found Dr. Ann Webber’s sessions on the latest developments in amblyopia and the pros and cons of prescribing drops for children both interesting and useful.
More Networking Opportunities
Exhibitors said the inclusion of dispensers and the staggered break times for the two groups provided more opportunities to talk with individual delegates. They also praised the opportunity to reach practice owners, managers and frontline staff together at the one conference. Ms. Boschen said she was already being approached by exhibitors to book stands for 2015.
“The feedback at the conference and through the post event evaluation has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Ms. Boschen. “The best feedback we can get is when delegates say they have learnt something they can apply immediately when they get back to work, and this time, the dual program has inspired everybody.”
Stay tuned for details of Blue Sky 2015, which will take place from 20–21 November.