This is an edited extract from a communication which was sent from Kate Gifford to Optometry Australia members on 16 December 2016
By Kate Gifford
Immediate Past President
This is my last message as National President of Optometry Australia. After two years I have completed my term, stepping off the national board and into new and renewed commitments to my patients and the profession.
Today, I handed over the reins to Andrew Hogan from Tasmania, who has been elected by the board to lead Optometry Australia into its next evolution. I have been on the national board for six years and was involved with Optometry Queensland Northern Territory from my time as its first student observer in 2003 until last year, so it will be a new experience for me to support Optometry Australia from the sidelines.
Below I have summarised some major milestones that I encountered during my term as your President, and some of the challenges and opportunities that our profession and Optometry Australia face. These include RANZCO, Medicare, maintaining solidarity in numbers and an increased urgency to stick together.
I absolutely believe there are more opportunities than challenges, and I am confident that Optometry Australia will embrace these to the benefit of all optometrists and the sector as a whole.
The day optometry stormed Parliament House
In my first week as President in January 2015, Medicare changes loomed and there was an enormous amount of work to do to develop evidence-based recommended fee guides, patient information and optometrist support materials for the biggest historical change to our consultation billing in 40 years. These changes have hurt our profession and our patients, and our extensive government advocacy often seems to fall on deaf (and budgetary constricted) ears.
However, our profession is known for its strong, measured and collaborative advocacy approach with government, amplified by the day ‘optometry stormed Parliament House’, and the presentation of an 18,000 strong signatured petition to government in late 2015 and over a dozen MP meetings undertaken to reinforce the petition. We continually evolve our advocacy in line with advice and trends from the government sector so our requests are reasonable, costed and evidence based.
Singing the same strategic tune
In my first month as President, Optometry Australia finalised its first shared strategic plan across the national and six state organisations. My challenge and opportunity has been to bring the leaders of the seven organisations closer together to enable a better collaboration and understanding of how to leverage each other’s successes to best support optometrists.
Genevieve Quilty has worked tirelessly to ensure the same among her state CEO colleagues. I encourage all of you to stay connected with your state organisation and give them feedback on how you want to engage with them, along with playing your part by engaging with Optometry Australia.
Changing tactics to support membership
One of the biggest challenges to our professional solidarity is the small but steady reduction in membership. This decrease is multifactorial: generational, informational and pervasive across member organisations. The fact is that much of the leadership and promotional work of Optometry Australia benefits the whole profession, member or not.
Our challenge is to engage the younger generation and also communicate to you that if you want independent and pragmatic steering of our professional ship, you need to do your part by supporting the captain and being a part of creating the present and future.
I’m particularly excited to see the evolution of our new Early Career Optometrists leadership group, who are the energetic future of our profession.
We also face challenges sticking together. When I commenced this role, I wrote about being motivated by communication, collegiality and education. I’m immensely proud of what Optometry Australia has achieved on all three fronts with our digital communication evolution, clinical working groups, early career optometrist activities, bi-annual Presidents’ meetings, online CPD and day-to-day optometrist support, for example. However, forces work to splinter our profession and Optometry Australia’s goal will always be to uphold excellence while taking the panoramic view of the landscape.
Our young colleagues in particular, need to understand and champion their clinical independence, and ensure they stay engaged and networked with their colleagues and profession.
No room for complacency
Optometry Australia absolutely offers the best professional indemnity insurance product available on the market, but we’re not permitted by law to show you a ‘tick box’ comparison with other products.
When the chips are down, you want someone on your side who is independent of your employer and who has extensive experience with the profession. Our Professional Services team, along with our long partnership with AVANT, mean that many colleagues feel absolutely supported and guided through the most tumultuous professional waters.
I hold genuine concern for colleagues who do not realise their need for this safety net in our times of increasing professional responsibility and concerning patient litigiousness.
A rewarding experience
My role as President has been one of the most rewarding in my professional life. It has also been one of the biggest challenges of my life, personally and professionally, and I have learned lessons money can’t buy about leadership, strategy and people. Now my energies are directed back towards my practice, my patients and staff, peer education and the completion of my PhD.
I will look on with great pride as Andrew Hogan and the National Board continue to implement and develop new strategies for the benefit of our fantastic profession.
Thank you to each of you for giving me the support, privilege and challenge of leadership over these past two years.