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HomemifeatureRANZCO Celebrates 50 Years

RANZCO Celebrates 50 Years

As the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) celebrates its 50th year, we look back at a rich history that has shaped the organisation’s success and influential role in global eye health today.

RANZCO office,
Chalmers Street, Sydney

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) was established back in 1969. The background of the formation of the College, however, goes back much further than that, to 120 years ago when Dr James Barrett took the first steps to form an Australian ophthalmology body.

In 1899 Dr Barrett, who had been studying in the UK and was a founding member of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom, worked with Dr A.L. Kennedy, from the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, to form the Ophthalmological Society of Victoria (OSV). While the OSV did not flourish at that time, it was resurrected in 1913 as the Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Section of the Victorian Branch of the British Medical Association (BMA).

By 1949 a number of ophthalmological groups were formed in Australia, in addition to the OSV. Some were formed as sections or branches of the BMA – Queensland in 1924, South Australia in 1925, and Western Australia in 1946. The Ophthalmological Society of New South Wales (OSNSW) was founded as an autonomous body in 1910.

James B. Foster, first
President of the Australian College of

In March 1938, the autonomous OSNSW and the eye sections of the BMA branches from Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia joined together to form the Ophthalmological Society of Australia (OSA).

Meanwhile in New Zealand, a New Zealand Branch of the BMA was formed in 1896. By the 1930s, moves were afoot to explore the idea of forming a specific ophthalmological society in New Zealand or to see whether New Zealand members could join the OSA and its name be changed to include New Zealand. The outbreak of the Second World War put any such plans on hold.

By 1946 the idea of a New Zealand ophthalmological society was raised again, and this time, the proposal was unanimously agreed and the Ophthalmological Society of New Zealand (OSNZ) was formed. Its first annual meeting was held in February 1947.

While the OSA was well established, it was not an examining or qualifying body and there was no single route to qualification for ophthalmologists practising in Australia. The various qualifications available included separate diplomas of ophthalmology in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland; a Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (FRACS); the Diploma of Ophthalmology from Oxford; and the Diploma in Ophthalmic Medicine and Surgery from London. The plethora of qualifications led to varying standards across Australian ophthalmology.


The formation of the College in Australia was therefore driven by a recognition of the need to bring together the disparate qualifications into an Australiawide uniform training program and examinations system.

Kenneth G Howsam, first Censor-in-Chief of the Australian College of

In 1968, after much debate, the OSA disbanded and was reformed as the Australian College of Ophthalmologists (ACO), which was incorporated on 27 May 1969. The aim of the ACO was to establish a training program and a qualifying examination of high standard, uniform throughout Australia. It assumed responsibility for the regulation and assessment of training, the conduct of training courses, and a two-part examination for membership of the College. Some of the former activities of the OSA were to continue, including playing a role in solving scientific and ethical problems, encouraging research, encouraging the collection of literature, publishing a journal, encouraging overseas ophthalmologists to visit Australia, and conducting annual congresses.

A Qualification and Education Committee (QEC) was established to meet all the responsibilities of creating a vocational training program, establishing an examination process, and awarding a diploma of Fellowship. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons assisted with the examination regulations and the QEC worked to integrate the training programs of the ACO, RACS and the universities, thereby making the entry requirements, syllabus and examinations the same for all. It was agreed that from June 1971 requirements for entry to be a member of the ACO would be by examination.

Simultaneously, negotiations had been going on with the Education and Qualification Committee of the Ophthalmological Society of New Zealand (OSNZ), with a view to achieving regional standards throughout Australasia. The requirement to pass the Part I Basic Science exam, with the implementation of a common final examination with the OSNZ, paved the way for the later amalgamation of Australian and New Zealand bodies


In the early 1990s, discussions began around the amalgamation of the OSNZ with the Australian college, then called the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists (RACO). An amalgamations committee was formed in 1994. While there were arguments made for and against OSNZ amalgamating with RACO, the vast majority of OSNZ members were in favour of the move. This was demonstrated when the results of a secret ballot in 1996 showed that 51 members voted in favour of amalgamation and only one voted against it.

The Council of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists accepted the full amalgamation. At an Extraordinary General Meeting, held during the 1996 Sydney Congress, the combining of activities of RACO with those of the Ophthalmological Society of New Zealand was approved. Following endorsement by Council, the College was formally re-named the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmology incorporating the Ophthalmological Society of New Zealand. Functioning of the new entity took effect in 1997 and major changes to the staffing structure took place.

The College continued the process of adjusting to the changes and preparing for the new millennium. In 2000, assent was given for the College to have a formal name change to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO).

The process of strategic planning for the College was institutionalised as a fundamental responsibility of sound corporate governance. Major objectives were established to achieve its goals of:

  • developing the world’s leading ophthalmic education system,
  • enhancing self-regulation of the profession in the interests of patient care,
  • building on the knowledge base,
  • taking a leadership role in eye care,
  • strengthening governance,
  • reviewing the professional scope of practice,
  • improving resources, and
  • strengthening communications.

RANZCO was registered as a foreign company operating in New Zealand to provide legal status for the New Zealand Branch and a new Coat of Arms was prepared to reflect the trans-Tasman nature of the College.

Since 2000, RANZCO has continued to develop, with improvements made to its structure and governance, ongoing updates to the training program and continuing professional development structures, and an increased role for the College in shaping the future of ophthalmology and health policy in Australia and New Zealand.

RANZCO will publish a more complete history of the College in 2019. Please see the RANZCO website for further details: www.ranzco.edu.

Emma Carr sourced information for this article from a forthcoming book written on the history of RANZCO by Margaret Dunn. Ms Carr is the General Manager, Communications at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists. She has a strong history in communications and public affairs in Australia and the United Kingdom. 

RANZCO into the Future

Fifty years on from its formation as the Australian College of Ophthalmologists, RANZCO now has its first female president and has expanded both in terms of coverage and size. The College now incorporates both Australia and New Zealand and has 1,200 members, with growth continuing year on year.

RANZCO’s scope has also developed, allowing it to meet the changing needs of the ophthalmology profession and to advocate for the profession and the people it serves. Additionally, its remit has grown so that the College can now continue to meet the requirements of an increasingly complex regulatory framework. RANZCO’s training program continues to modernise, keeping pace with the fast moving world of ophthalmology practice and technology, to ensure the best possible ophthalmologists are produced, who are equipped to meet the changing needs of our communities as leaders in collaborative eye care.