A more active optical dispensing association is to be formed with the aim being to improve and advance the occupation of optical dispensing in Australia.
At a forum conducted at O=MEGA19, industry members voiced their concern about the current well-being of the sector, and expressed interest in furthering education standards and professional respect for those within in.
The proposed stronger, more active association was applauded by attending optical dispensers and various sector members who attended the forum
The forum was moderated by Paul Clarke, a past president of the International Opticians Association, having been encouraged by several members of the eye health sector.
Mr Clarke presented a brief history of optical dispensing in Australia, and described the current sector as “not going wonderfully well” and “an unsophisticated profession in Australia”.
He said it was important not to apportion blame for this, but rather to find a way to move on.
Highlighting the importance of the occupation to patient eye health and the practise of optometry, Mr Clarke said “I think we’re becoming more significant because there is a much more complex need for glasses – we’re selling lens types never available before, people are engaged in much more close up work, and I think it will be a long time before technology is able to take our jobs.”
Active Interest in Improvement
Mr Clarke presented findings from a survey conducted in the lead up to the forum, which generated 216 responses from eye health sector members.
Respondents included 172 optical dispensers, five trainees, 25 optical assistants, nine optical mechanics and five optometrists working as dispensers. There were 112 women and 103 male respondents. Fifty two were independent business owners, 99 were employed by independents, 22 were employed by corporates and 18 were employed within franchises.
The overwhelming feedback from the survey was that people were interested in being part of an association, and want to participate in a recognised program of professional education. The majority felt they were not getting enough benefit from the current optical dispensers association which is run in a voluntary capacity.
Breaking the Responses Down
When asked about their interest in association membership, 129 respondents said they would become a member of an active optical dispensing association and 59 said they may become a member.
When asked about participating in professional education, 185 people said they were very interested or interested, and 24 were neither interested or disinterested. When asked whether they would be interested in an education program that provides recognition of education achieved, 186 people were very interested or interested in an education program. Additionally, 77 of the 94 employers who responded to the survey said they would be prepared to pay for their optical dispensers to participate in education and the majority of employed dispensers also indicated they would be willing to pay for education.
When asked whether they would be happy to volunteer to help advance an active association for optical dispensers, 135 respondents said yes and 81 said no.
Mr Clarke said based on his experience, interest in volunteering assistance was outstandingly positive, however he acknowledged that to ensure an active and sustainable association, it would be necessary to engage a person to run the association.
He announced that Ron Baroni, who has 20 years’ experience in the eye health sector and recently left Optometry Giving Sight, had agreed to steer the formation of the Association in a voluntary capacity. All going well, it is anticipated that this role will become paid in the future.
Overwhelmingly Positive Response
The proposed stronger, more active association was applauded by attending optical dispensers and various sector members who attended the forum.
Darrell Baker, President of Optometry Australia (OA) congratulated those involved and said Optometry Australia was “very supportive”.
“Dispensing can’t do without optometry and optometry can’t do without dispensing – we are very supportive of what’s happening today and I’m thrilled to see such a collection of great minds and thinkers,” he said.
He said the OA board would support the formation of a stronger association by providing resources, intelligence, data, and any required assistance. Reflecting on the recent launch of Optometry Australia’s 2040 project, which sets out a future direction for the next 20 years, he cautioned the need for an optical dispensers association to do the same.
“The primary operation of an association is to strategise… to think progressively, think far ahead, what’s it going to look like in 20 years’ time?”
Several attendees at the forum said a stronger optical dispensers association must embrace optical dispensers from across the profession, whether they work within an independent, corporate or franchise model.
One attendee suggested a stronger association should move to initiate a change to the Federal government act governing the occupation, so that optical dispensers can be called opticians, in line with their international counterparts.
There was a call to re-visit the qualification of optical dispenser, with experienced dispensers claiming that people with no industry training or experience should not be referred to as optical dispensers. Concerns were raised about the number of untrained people dispensing spectacles to patients and the impact of this on eye health and practice success. The overwhelming feeling was that vocational education is needed for all young optical dispensers and ongoing education is necessary to advance the profession.
Philip Rose from Eyecare Plus noted the generational change happening in eye care and said it was necessary to attract “smart young people – to bring them out of retail and fashion and train them”.
Steve Daras, teacher, optical dispenser and course coordinator for TAFE Digital reflected on industry changes and deregulation which have dramatically reduced investment and interest in training optical dispensers. He said education and training is needed and that the workplace is not equipped to train dispensers as “it does not have the time, expertise or resources”.
Steve O’Leary, director of product and dispensing advancement at Specavers, said Certificate IV in optical dispensing should be regarded as a baseline for optical dispensers.
“No-one should be able to see a customer until they have done this,” he said.
Optical dispensers who are interested in being part of a stronger more active association are invited to submit their details to the President of the Australian Dispensing Optician’s Association, Amelia Roberts (email [email protected]). All details will be forwarded to Ron Baroni.