Advancing optics Down Under

The optical industry in Australia has faced a number of challenges since it was deregulated in 2009. Current training in both Australia and New Zealand is at Cert 4 Level, with anyone wanting to further upgrade their knowledge and skills in ophthalmic dispensing having to go overseas. However, there is now a new opportunity for aspiring dispensing opticians in Australia and New Zealand with a successful collaboration between ABDO, ABDO College, the Association of Dispensing Opticians New Zealand (ADONZ) and Specsavers in Australia and New Zealand.

By working together and inspiring those with the Level 4 qualification, the organisations have recruited five students to take part in a pilot year where they study just like students at ABDO College, combining distance learning with block release, which this year has been taught by ABDO College principal, Jo Underwood.

Appetite for further education

The appetite for further optical education in Australia and New Zealand is significant and growing. Donald Crichton is president of ADONZ and vice president of the International Opticians Association (IOA). He says: “The feeling in New Zealand is that DO training is on a positive upward trajectory. There is interest in the course, which is being well supported in line with our population.”
Specsavers offers an annual dispensing conference in locations across Australia and New Zealand and people turn up in huge numbers from within and without the group. Alicia Thompson, director of professional examinations for ABDO, has lectured at the Specsavers Dispensing Conferences in 2017 and 2018 and will return this year. She says: “The level of enthusiasm and desire for knowledge from the delegates blew me away. To witness first-hand the self-driven motivation for attending, participation and learning is incredibly refreshing.”

Richard Couch is head of ophthalmic lenses and dispensing advancement with the Specsavers Product Team in Australia and New Zealand and has been one of the driving forces behind getting the course up and running in Australia. He says: “There is a tremendous desire for dispensing advancement in both Australia and New Zealand and there is no better format for learning than the ABDO format. The fact that local optical dispensers can engage directly with lecturers in Australia will really appeal and should take participation to a new level.”

Long-term planning

The course is being run by ABDO College, and Jo Underwood spent a week in Melbourne earlier this year working with students on the first block release, held at a Specsavers office in Melbourne, for employees and those who work in independent practice too. She explains: “In order to fully support students on the Ophthalmic Dispensing course who are based in Australia and New Zealand, we offer two one-week teaching blocks to supplement online course materials.
“February was the first time I met the students, and the first time they came together as a group. I introduced all of the practical elements required for year one of the course, gave additional theory support, and helped students understand the examination format. The group were hugely enthusiastic, really positive and excited about the programme and we all enjoyed interacting with one other. I am looking forward to my return visit in May.”

While Jo has enjoyed visiting Australia to offer a packed week of lectures and practical sessions, she says: “In the future I hope more than one of the ABDO College team can visit and we aim to start training Australians to deliver the course. In the long-term, we are committed but our direct involvement in the block will be handed over as people are identified who can do the face-to-face teaching. The enthusiasm is there and the knowledge just needs harnessing.” After Jo’s return visit, there will be the theory exam in June, a pre-exam revision session in July, and a practical exam in August before the first cohort of students progress into year two in September. Jo adds: “We are excited about welcoming a much larger number of students in the coming year.”

Students who study in Australia and New Zealand can now benefit from interaction online with ABDO College’s Virtual Learning Environment, Moodle, and a growing number of video resources.
Applications are now open for the course in Ophthalmic Dispensing, which combines online study with lectures and practical sessions in Australia. For more information visit or email