Remote locations, diverse cases, and close collaboration with ophthalmology are the stimulants that keep Alex Craig’s passion for eye care alive.
My entry into regional eye care probably started before I knew it – I spent most of my formative years in central Africa, where access to primary care was challenging and vision testing was not considered a necessity. Little did I know, one does not have to live in Africa to experience accessibility barriers and continuity of care concerns.
The need for optometry to upskill and push the boundaries of the profession is at an all-time high…
Twenty years after leaving Africa, I have made it my practising ambition to bring consistent, high quality, integrative holistic care to regional and remote Western Australia. I remain passionate about improving referral pathways with the utility of local general practitioners, and de-loading the burden on the public health system, all while increasing accessibility to those who call remote Australia home.
I graduated from University of Melbourne in 2015 and, with my newly acquired skillset, was determined to work with a broad population demographic. I also wanted the opportunity to interface with tertiary care in the process of complex case management. I found all of this in Karratha, Western Australia, where I cemented myself in a regional community by working for four years in corporate optometry.
During that time, I embraced opportunities to work closely with the Lions Eye Institute Outback Vision and Dr Angus Turner; working with visiting ophthalmologists in two regional tertiary care centres (Karratha and Hedland hospitals); operating diabetic and macular degeneration injection intervention clinics; and managing a small number of ad-hoc clinical cases.
I also contributed to the implementation of a hospital based tele-health model, which greatly improved efficiency of patient triage, initial assessment waittimes, and surgical pre/post management. Importantly, this model also increased access to care for Indigenous Australians in the region by approximately ten times. Later, I was fortunate to be involved in expanding the service to include HBT or community optometry telehealth as well as an ad-hoc service with on-call ophthalmology five days a week.
In 2019, I moved into private practice with the opening of Karratha Eyecare. We pride ourselves on being local and providing education based, community centred optometry. As such, we run workshops on occupational eye health and safety for emergency medical officers in the mining sector, work with school children on sun protection awareness and give presentations on the eye and early childhood development. We also work closely with the hospital emergency department, triaging and co-managing patients. At times we are granted rights to see patients in the emergency department facility.
The need for optometry to upskill and push the boundaries of the profession is at an all-time high – this is markedly evident in remote areas where tertiary care is not always physically available. With this in mind, I continue to try and bridge the gap between optometry and ophthalmology, advocating for a larger, more well-rounded procedural skillset for our profession. I look forward to the months ahead, during which I will welcome students from the newly founded optometry program at the University of Western Australia (UWA) as well as the University of Melbourne, who undertake placements in my practice. Making eye care more accessible in regional Australia is not only beneficial for our patients, it also creates a brilliant teaching ground for students. Providing them with exposure to tertiary care thought process and patterns, and involving them in collaborative care plans for diverse cases, will help develop good, balanced, and confident clinicians upon entry into the workforce.
Most recently, I have been invited to deliver the ocular lecture series for UWA regional medical school students in Karratha. This will be a valuable opportunity to bring medicine and optometry together at an educational level.
Optometry in Australia is ever evolving, and I am excited to be a part of it. I think practising in regional areas can be particularly rewarding – this certainly has been my experience.
Alex Craig graduated in optometry from University of Melbourne in 2015. He is the director and optometrist at Karratha Eyecare and a director at Karratha Central Health Care. Mr Craig is Chair of the UWA regional and Indigenous optometry advisory committee and a Member of the Optometry Australia Continued Professional Development advisory committee.