Eyecare 2021: the best of both worlds

Stuart Wellings FBDO BSc

Stuart with fellow iCET director, Hiten Gorecha

In January 2020, iCET took on the one of the UK’s best and well known CET conferences, Eyecare Glasgow (see DO Online News). However, in March 2020 things took an unexpected twist. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on optics, including how we deliver education.

CET/CDP is vital for maintaining and upgrading our skills and knowledge, and provides a platform to share ideas and experiences with peers. This is especially important for professionals who may be isolated – helping to build relationships and support networks. Eyecare education in particular has a huge social strand to it, with colleagues from across the UK meeting up to participate in a wide variety of activities.

As the pandemic unfolded last spring, we soon realised we were in for the long haul. With this in mind, we decided to cancel our usual iCET roadshow and run the event via Zoom. We were confident that by January 2021, we would be back to ‘normal’ – and that with masks, social distancing and plenty of hand sanitiser we could host the conference. But by late last summer, hope was fading.

Planning in partnership

Running CET on Zoom is relatively straightforward, but Eyecare traditionally has a multi-stream programme with a multitude of speakers across six rooms and a lecture hall. Condensing that into an online format for Eyecare Online was a challenge, but one we felt we had to take on.

We had already planned to steadily introduce a virtual element to Eyecare, so people across the globe could take part, but gradually easing into it now wasn’t an option. We owed it to the regular Eyecare delegates, who provide the event with its unique family feel, to provide a full online conference.

We are lucky to have great contacts and friends all over the industry who were willing to help. With their help, we put together a team of Education Partners to develop a fantastic range of CET covering every imaginable topic. Our Education Partners are the real stars of Eyecare Online 2021, and will always be welcome in Glasgow. We also had great support from industry suppliers, who showed incredible faith in us as we navigated uncharted territory.

Perfecting a platform

With a great team in place, the next challenge was to create a platform. When it comes to interactive online CET; people need to be able to engage in a relaxed and safe manner. People can often feel intimidated in group discussions, especially when more outgoing participants dominate the conversation, so it’s important that everyone gets the opportunity to share their thoughts.

People can also feel self-conscious being on camera in their own home, with those unexpected surprises that can occur, from dogs and children to WiFi issues and technical faults. So it’s vitally important to have support available to help with any issues.

To facilitate participation, we created two Zoom discussion rooms for Eyecare Online, plus another Zoom room where delegates could log in to speak to exhibitors. With three Zoom rooms, with different login details on each of the two days, there was bound to be some confusion. We also had a webinar channel featuring live lectures on both days, which enabled delegates to listen to some of the industry’s top speakers.

This is a great tool for interactive CET as the addition of polls can engage the audience, along with the question function allowing delegates to pose questions anonymously for the lecturer. The big advantage of this is that people who don’t normally feel comfortable speaking in a room full of strangers can feel much more comfortable raising a virtual hand.

So is this the future of CET?

Nothing beats the buzz of a proper live conference. We’re an interconnected profession through social media and various organisations, but often these kind of events are the only time we get to meet in person. Delegates love to wander the exhibition hall and get hands-on experience of the latest tech, and suppliers love the opportunity to show their products.

Many suppliers invest money and effort to attend conferences as the interaction is priceless and difficult to replicate online. But for many, the opportunity to attend an online conference is a fantastic option. Pressures of work and family life, and the financial implications of travel and accommodation, can make attending in person difficult.

There are also General Optical Council registered professionals who live and work outside of the UK, as we have had people join online sessions from Barbados, South Africa, Japan, Australia and Dubai.

There’s definitely a place for both formats and we will certainly channel our efforts into both with a packed 2021 schedule for iCET combining webinars, online peer review and, hopefully, some regional shows.

In January 2022, Eyecare Glasgow will be back in its normal format, with the addition of an Eyecare Birmingham in May, which will also combine an Eyecare Online. Online CET/CDP is definitely here to stay, and will certainly be a big part of our future.

Eyecare Glasgow will take place on 16 and 17 January 2022, with Eyecare Birmingham on 8 May 2022. Find out more here.

Stuart Wellings BSC Hons FBDO is a dispensing optician and founder of iCET.