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HomemieventsInaugural Conference for Optical Dispensers

Inaugural Conference for Optical Dispensers

In what will stand as a highlight in Australia’s optical dispensing industry, Optical Dispensers Australia recently held its first national conference. The event included a gala and graduation ceremony, neatly embedded into the heart of the conference, and was a resounding success.

Optical Dispensers Australia (ODA) was launched in early 2022 as, according to CEO April Petrusma, “Australia’s national body to offer optical dispensers and industry support staff guidance, support, and opportunities for growth and development”.

the evening stands as the largest and most significant optical dispensing event in the history of our industry in both Australia and New Zealand

The organisation fills “a yawning and unaddressed gap” in the optical dispensing industry, which she said has existed for years, with opportunities to access continuing professional development (CPD) and employment support in critically short supply.

ODA seeks to fill this gap as quickly as possible, and its recent weekend conference was a giant step in that direction.

The two-day conference was held on the last weekend in April in the heart of Sydney at the Sydney Masonic Centre. More than 140 delegates attended from every state and territory in Australia, as well as New Zealand and Japan. It was well supported by nine major sponsors and over 20 trade displays in the foyer area.

One of the successes of this conference was the range of topics and speakers curated by Ms Petrusma and her team. Many delegates expressed how much they appreciated this and how beneficial they found the program.

Throughout the event Paul Clarke, an energetic MC, kept the entire room on its toes. To ensure there was no dip in concentration on Saturday afternoon, with a little help from conference delegate Adam Stenos, he sprung an impromptu audience participation activity on delegates, which required Greek dancing.

Standout Sessions

The speaker line-up was impressive, and topics covered were expansive, but a few of the standout sessions for this author included: Professor Alexander Holden, Clinical Professor at Sydney Uni who spoke on ‘Managing commercialism ethically for the modern health professional’. He emphasized the most successful practices commercially will have ethical practices at the heart of everything they do.

Zoe Ross, New Zealand-based dispensing optician and Australiasian College of Dispensing (ACOD) teacher who spoke on ‘Troubleshooting progressive lenses: scenarios and approaches to resolve them’.

She gave a step-by-step guide to addressing some of the most common non-adaption challenges. Lab managers around Australia would have been particularly appreciative of this session.

Nabil Jacob, Clinical Relationship Manager, Vision Australia spoke on ‘The vision impaired patient: Beyond optical and clinical care’. Mr Jacob covered the most common causes of vision impairment and low vision, an issue that has been critically underserviced in Australia for years. In addition, he showcased Vision Australia’s amazing virtual reality high-tech headset that offers the wearer an incredible insight into what people with low vision experience.

Lisa Raad, Orthoptist Lecturer UTS and Managing Director, Pinpoint Vision spoke to the topic, ‘Paediatric vision, glasses and the balancing act’. She covered a number of sub-topics that are vital to keep in mind when dispensing to children, including the overarching reasons for prescribing lenses as well as the crucial frame and fitting ‘musts’ that apply for children. Several delegates commented that dispensers desperately need more paediatric specific CPD.

Nicola Peaper, Sales and Professional Services Manager at Rodenstock, spoke about ‘Improving lens performance’. Delegates were challenged by the additional parameters besides pantoscopic tilt, face form angle, and corneal vertex that can impact lens performance. These parameters include exact biometric eye measurements, or at least the benefits of approximate measurements related to the biometric eye model.

Chedy Kalach, ACOD Director and teacher, spoke on ‘A dispenser’s guide to understanding prism’. Mr Kalach provided an overview of the basic prism principles, refreshing and reminding delegates of what they learnt in their own original training, and filling in any gaps that may have sprung up over the years.

Craig Johnston, National Sales and Marketing Manager for Younger Optics ANZ spoke on ‘Nupolar technology and benefits’. This final presentation was clearly a hit with the room. After defining what polarised light is and explaining how it occurs, Mr Johnston provided delegates with the ideal language and explanations that a dispenser can use when discussing these effects with the customer. The benefits and effects of polarized filters, coloured tints, and photochromic products were covered, as well as some handy general dispensing tips. The very last question he received (indeed, the last for the conference) involved a delightful exchange between Mr Johnston and conference delegate Colin. As it turned out, Mr Johnston was an apprentice optical mechanic supervised by Colin in Queensland some 40 years ago. The obvious rapport between the two was a heart-warming note to finish on.

Gala Celebrations

The weekend conference was punctuated by the Friday night Gala event, during which ODA presented its inaugural National Excellence Awards, followed by the ACOD Graduation Ceremony.

This event was also hosted by ODA and in her opening address Ms Petrusma described it as both historic and iconic.
I was delighted to MC this event, and believe the evening stands as the largest and most significant optical dispensing event in the history of our industry in both Australia and New Zealand.

While an audacious claim, I stand by it, based on the total attendance of over 240 guests, and representatives from a huge range of industry organisations such as the Board members of both ODA and ACOD, Specsavers, Optical Distributors and Manufacturers Association, Rodenstock, Essilor, Hoya, Eyes Right Optical, George and Matilda, ProVision, Eyecare Plus, Bailey Nelson, Humanware, Tokai, Hilco, Wiley X, De Rigo, and Jono Hennessy, plus others!

The Guest of Honour for this esteemed occasion was none other than mivision founder and publisher Todd Tai.

During his keynote address, Mr Tai quoted from current International Opticians Association President Donald Crichton, who congratulated the graduands and reminded them “with your new skills, you can change people’s lives for the better”. He urged his graduating listeners to “push the boundaries of your own progress and set higher standards for yourselves”, and also encouraged them to “get involved in you profession and join the ODA. The ODA is there to defend your professional interests”.

ODA Excellence Awards

ODA Communications Manager and Head of Member Services Lou Thomas announced the following ODA National Excellence Award winners:
• Rookie of the Year: Charlote Swailes, Specsavers Karrinyup, WA,
• Community Champion Award: Bobby Bugden, Be Seen Eyewear, NSW,
• CEO’s Member Dedication Award: Keeley Wicks, Wicks Eyecare, VIC,
• Role Model and Leadership Award: Sarah Thompson, Wills St Eyecare, VIC,
• Outstanding Practice Owner Award: Belinda Musitano, Eyes@Optometry, WA, and
• ODA National Medal for Optical Dispensing Excellence: Lisa Raad, Pinpoint Vision, NSW.

ACOD Graduation Ceremony

Following the presentation of the ODA Awards, attention turned to the ACOD Graduation Ceremony for the Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing. While 54 students were in attendance, over 260 students have completed the course from Australia and New Zealand in the previous 12 months.

Specsavers was the major sponsor for this occasion and in his ‘Welcome from Industry’ speech, Specsavers Head of Ophthalmic Lenses and Dispensing Advancement, Richard Couch addressed the graduands saying, “Today is a defining moment in your careers and one that you should all be proud of ”.

Once all graduands had been presented, the following prize winners were announced:
Third in Course: Lucy Smith, Specsavers Dubbo, NSW,
Second in Course: Rishmie Logendran, Custom Eyecare, NSW, and
First in Course: Wai Yi Chan, Specsavers Browns Plains, QLD.

Afterwards Steve O’Leary, Specsavers Director of Product, said “We’re very proud of the hard work and dedication of all our Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing graduates”. He highlighted the achievements of the three Specsavers prize winners.

The final speech of the night proved possibly the most popular. Graduate Leah Krejcir, from the Victor Eye Centre in Victor Harbor South Australia, spoke on behalf of the student body and shared a little of her course experience. Ms Krejcir spoke candidly about the ups and downs of study, while working full time and raising three teenage boys, all through the pandemic. On behalf of all students she thanked her ACOD teachers, acknowledged the vital roles that family and friends played in support, and described her experience as a “celebration of learning”. On another note, Ms Krejcir’s three teenage sons also came across from South Australia to help celebrate her achievements!

What Next?

The over-riding question from conference delegates at the closing drinks was “What next?”.

While ODA will continue to offer a comprehensive program of online CPD and other services via the website, as it has done for the past 12 months, a new standard has been set for conference and live events, which all optical dispensers and industry support staff can look forward to.

James Gibbins is the co-founder and Senior Trainer of the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing.