By Rhiannon Riches
Bernadette Eastwood headed west when she graduated in optometry from Queensland University of Technology in 1990 but it wasn’t until a stint teaching in the Pilbara that her passion for behavioural optometry came to the fore.
Bernie was elected president of the Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists (ACBO) at its annual general meeting in Brisbane on 1 July.
She started her career by practising for four years in Perth, a city she describes as being similar to Brisbane at the time.
Bernie saw many children with vision problems coming into the practice but wasn’t able to help them just by correcting their visual acuity.
Frustrated by this, Bernie took a career step to the side and enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Education. ‘I left optometry to find answers,’ Bernie said. ‘My knowledge of behavioural optometry at the time was nil.’
She completed her DipEd and then ventured north to teach primary school children in the Pilbara.
‘I worked in education in the Pilbara for a few years, but when I wanted to come back to metropolitan living, there were very few teaching positions available,’ she said. With little choice, she returned to optometry.
‘I worked as a locum in Perth with a behavioural optometrist, John Palassis, who became my first mentor,’ she said. It was the move that provided the answers she was looking for.
‘John showed me that I could combine my skills in education with further learning in behavioural optometry.’
Bernie began studying behavioural optometry through ACBO, practised as a locum with other experienced behavioural optometrists in Perth and became an ACBO Fellow.
She says the role of president is a natural progression.
‘I have a passion for behavioural optometry. It extends you as a clinician and it helps you in turn to help patients. Now that I have established myself as an individual practitioner, I can see opportunities to participate in the bigger picture of the profession. The timing is right,’ she said.
‘My role as president involves coming together with the ACBO board and making organisational choices that move ACBO forward,’ she said.
She is joined in her two-year term as president by Paul Levi (past president), returned board member Steve Leslie (vice president), Orlando Pezzimenti (treasurer), Kevin O’Brien (secretary), Rebecca Jamieson, and new board member Bryan Fuller.
‘As president, I want to help ACBO to increase its profile and acceptance in the optometric community that behavioural optometry is rewarding and relevant.
‘I want to see behavioural optometry collaborate with general optometry for best patient care outcomes. It is important that general optometrists understand the skills and knowledge that behavioural optometrists offer, and refer patients to them when necessary.
‘It’s about acknowledging the different skills and relevant experience that each individual optometrist possesses. I don’t hesitate to refer a complicated hard gas permeable contact lenses fitting to someone with greater skills in this area, and the patient loves you for it.’
ACBO executive officer Veronica Kypros said its education program was constantly expanding and the organisation was collaborating closely with global groups.
‘ACBO is developing content for our online education programs. Our Practical Vision Therapy program, which includes some online as well as face to face workshop components, is highly regarded internationally.
‘With the help of the Brien Holden Vision Institute we are exploring licencing opportunities for this program with overseas markets including India and the USA. ACBO has invested in building a dedicated Online Education portal to service these foreign markets,’ she said.
‘The clinical curriculum of the Optometric Extension Program in the USA is one of the cornerstones of ACBO’s education. While the philosophy of our education must by definition be “behavioural”, ACBO believes that its conferences are relevant to the general optometric community as they set a high standard for clinical excellence.
‘The Optometric Extension Program and ACBO have a long-standing strategic relationship which is now evolving into an international collaboration as like-minded organisations seek to build resources and develop excellent education. ACBO is seen as one of the leading organisations in this global forum,’ she said.
For Bernie, the link between optometry and education is vital.
‘Behavioural optometry expands the general scope of optometry. For me as a clinician, it provides greater interest. There is a misconception that behavioural optometry is just about paediatric vision care but that is not true.
‘I have learned such a lot from my behavioural optometry studies to help patients with the vision problems that can arise with Parkinson’s, autism, head injury, post-concussion, vertigo—the list goes on. Providing the best outcome for the patient is what is most important,’ she said.
Bernie is also a director of the ProVision board and a member of Optometry Western Australia. She practises at The Focal Point Optometrist in Padbury, WA.