At a time when numbers for most conferences have been down, South Australia’s SA Blue Sky Congress attracted record numbers with optometrists and optical dispensers from across the country attending the annual congress in November.
Libby Boschen, CEO of Optometry South Australia said the variety of the educational program was the main reason 257 optometrists and 53 dispensers attended SA Blue Sky Congress 2015 (up from 200 and 46 respectively the previous year).
The number of trade exhibitors also increased with 25 companies on board (18 in 2014), including newcomers Rodenstock, European Eyewear and Van Staveren Eyewear mixing in with the likes of Designs for Vision, Zeiss, Menicon and Optique Line, which has been a primary sponsor of SA Blue Sky Congress for the past five years. “I believe that the trade show has become popular among exhibitors because of our delegate base,” said Ms. Boschen. “75 per cent of delegates are typically from independent optometry practices.”
Ms. Boschen said anecdotal evidence suggested small changes to the educational format of the SA Blue Sky Congress program had contributed to its success.
“This year we tried formative assessments, a process which involves the lecturer asking delegates to answer a question ahead of discussing a topic rather than waiting until the end of the session. This enhances learning by encouraging interaction and enabling lecturers to tailor their presentations according to the responses received,” she said.
Ms. Boschen said feedback from optometrists and optical dispensers had been positive and constructive for future SA Blue Sky Congresses.
“Feedback from optical dispensers was particularly useful as this was only the second time we have run a stream just for this group and we know that we are still feeling our way,” said Ms. Boschen. “The huge diversity of current knowledge is a challenge – some are qualified, some aren’t, some have 20 years’ experience, others have just started. Next year we will most likely grade workshops and lectures into introductory, intermediate and advanced levels so dispensers can choose according to their needs. We will also offer a one-day registration, enabling practice managers to more effectively manage their resources.
These changes will suit Amelia Roberts, an optical dispenser with Sydney optometry practice Langshaw & Bell.
“I’m a real supporter of the effort Optometry South Australia has made to include optical dispensers at Blue Sky. I’ve been for the last two years and am always made to feel welcome,” said Ms. Roberts.We need more conferences like this around the country. Eye health in Australia is changing and so we all need to have more skills not less, yet due to deregulation there is huge disparity in the level of expertise among dispensers.
“Optical dispensers are often the first port of call for customers who come into the practice, which means we need access to the latest information about lenses and contact lenses.”
Ms. Roberts said although there were plenty of great speakers at SA Blue Sky Congress, there is room for improvement. “Exposure to more lens companies and the very latest technologies would be beneficial as would sessions more tailored to our experience. I would also like to see more frame companies exhibiting – Blue Sky is the perfect opportunity to see what is on offer.”
Van Staveren Eyewear from Victoria was at SA Blue Sky Congress for the first time in 2015. Previously the company has exhibited at Australian Vision Conference.
John Van Staveren said he and his brother Mark decided to attend because, “with the current challenging market, we felt Blue Sky would be a more intimate and refreshing way to promote our company. We always receive great support throughout South Australia and we enjoy our visits here. The timing is good as registration points need to be up by the end of November.”
He said the decision to attend was “definitely worth while” because “it gave us a great opportunity to interact and network with a wide variety of people including other wholesalers and support businesses in our industry”.
Asked whether Van Staveren Eyewear would return to attend SA Blue Sky Congress in 2016, he said, “For sure, we’ll be there! I have to say, Libby and all the staff at Optometry South Australia put on a great and fun conference for all attending!”
In 2016 SA Blue Sky Congress will be held at the Festival Centre in Adelaide from 25–26 November and themed “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your eyes”.