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In March 2024, Optometry Australia was delighted to host two students from Deakin University as they undertook a Student Advocacy Placement.

Working with the Optometry Advancement team, Byron Jing-Xi Qiu and Numaya Kulatunge predominantly assisted with updating clinical resources, while also meeting with departments across the organisation and familiarising themselves with the culture and work across all areas of Optometry Australia.

Here, they explain how they spent their two weeks with the organisation and the role that policy and advocacy has within optometry.

What specific policies or advocacy initiatives did you work on during your placement with Optometry Australia, and how do you believe they impact the optometry profession?

Byron: During my placement with Optometry Australia, I worked on updating various Optometry Australia Guidelines, including those for tonometry, gonioscopy, and pupil dilation. While these updates may not represent radical changes, they are nonetheless important for refining our understanding of clinical procedures and their indications. By incorporating new evidence and recommendations, these updates inform me and my peers of the best practices for conducting these tests.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to participate in a working group meeting aimed at publishing a new guideline in the coming year.

Numaya: During my time with Optometry Australia, I was actively involved in updating clinical practice guidelines and clinical notes, ensuring that optometrists have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information. I also had the opportunity to join discussions regarding existing policy and advocacy projects, allowing me to better understand the organisation’s initiatives, as well as interact with the OA team and gain an insight into their roles and career journeys.

In your opinion, what role do policy and advocacy play in shaping the future of optometry practise and healthcare delivery? Can you provide examples to support your perspective?

Byron: Policy and advocacy work not only aids in shaping the method of practise that optometrists will hope to emulate but also give us a view of the future. I think coming from a student’s perspective and trying to graduate as the best clinician possible, we often have tunnel vision as we focus on becoming a clinically safe practitioner. Not that there is anything wrong with this per se, but it obscures the hard work that needs to be put in behind the scenes.

What was made obvious was the fact that optometry would not be able to go anywhere without a team that could help guide our profession in the right direction. The Optometry 2040 project is something that I would recommend all optometrists read, as it gives our profession an outlook as to where we need to be at that time. Prior to being on this placement and then reading this report, I did not contemplate and reflect on the long-term prognosis of how we want to work, and I think it has been quite valuable in provoking further thought into what I want to do moving forward as an optometrist.

Numaya: I believe that policy and advocacy play a critical role in shaping the future of optometry by facilitating adaptation to rapid technological advancements, evolving patient demographics and expanding scopes of practice. For example, as optometry embraces new technology like artificial intelligence or telehealth for remote consultations, policies and regulatory frameworks must exist to ensure that optometrists remain competent and maintain patient safety, privacy, and quality of care.

Furthermore, I believe that advocacy is essential to maintain the sustainability and growth of the profession. This involves advocating for recognition of optometrists as primary eye care providers within interdisciplinary healthcare settings and promoting interprofessional education and communication.

Reflecting on your placement experience, what skills or insights did you gain that you believe are essential for effective advocacy within the optometry field?

Byron: I think the key insight that I have obtained on this placement is that we need passionate people in the right areas to provide the backbone of our optometry industry. Effective advocacy requires those who can find a balance in finding the issues that are affecting the industry and then choosing what we can realistically make a change or impact upon and putting in work.

What again is overlooked is the fact that in this space, it is all about the small wins. It is easy to idealistically talk about what change should be conducted or the problems we can see. However, the inevitable reality is that policy and governance is a complex space that requires people, timing, and the understanding that there will be differing opinions that need to be addressed. We need the help of those with experience to guide us into the future.

How do you envision incorporating your understanding of policy and advocacy into your future practice as an optometrist? What steps do you plan to take to continue contributing to these efforts beyond your placement with Optometry Australia?

Numaya: Incorporating my understanding of policy and advocacy into my future practise as a graduate optometrist is a major goal as I am passionate about growth within optometry and advancing patient access to healthcare.

I plan to stay informed about legislative and regulatory changes through ongoing professional development and engagement with resources provided by Optometry Australia. I also hope to find opportunities to engage in advocacy initiatives within my local community and professional networks including advocacy workshops, joining early-career committees such as ECOV/SA and opportunities to collaborate and learn from other healthcare professionals.

I also plan to integrate advocacy into my daily practice as an optometrist by advocating for individual patients’ needs and rights within the healthcare system. This may involve advocating for appropriate referrals, access to necessary treatments or for patients’ interests within multidisciplinary care settings. I hope that I can contribute to positive change throughout my career that benefits optometry professionals, patients, and the broader healthcare system.

Would you recommend this policy and advocacy placement with Optometry Australia to your fellow optometry students or colleagues?

Byron: I wholeheartedly recommend the policy and advocacy placement with Optometry Australia to my fellow optometry students and colleagues. This experience was truly eye-opening and provided a unique opportunity to explore alternative pathways within the field. While many of us may be focused on securing our first graduate roles, this placement reminded me of the broader possibilities available to us, including roles in public health or advocacy.

Interacting with professionals in this field provided invaluable insights and a deeper appreciation for the work we are doing and how we can further help others. It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to influence and push forward an entire health profession, making this placement an exceptional learning experience and something I would encourage anyone with the opportunity to try out.

Numaya: Absolutely, I would highly recommend this placement to anyone who is interested in making a change within the public health and advocacy space. It was an excellent opportunity to understand the broader landscape of healthcare policy, OA’s role in advocacy and its impact on optometry practice. Furthermore, I was able to connect with industry professionals and advocacy experts who have made significant contributions to the field of optometry.

I’d like to thank Optometry Australia for giving me this incredible opportunity and a special thank you to Sarah Davies and Kerryn Hart for their pivotal roles in making this experience possible.

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Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.