The IOA has been bringing optical professionals together to talk about the challenges of the optical business for more than fifty years. Originally, membership was mainly opticians from independent businesses in countries worldwide. The IOA was created to provide a forum for members to talk about the business side of optics and its development. Typically, these members were also key opinion leaders and successful business owners. The mission of the IOA today has developed to reflect the changing landscape of optics. First and foremost, the IOA is an association dedicated to the enhancement and development of the optical profession around the world. Its mission today is to act as a forum for optician practitioners, optical bodies and educators to come together and discuss topics which have an impact on the development of the profession and the delivery of world class eyecare and quality vision. The IOA has always offered opticians the opportunity to discuss and disseminate matters relating to optical business. It has a political outlook with an emphasis on the development of the profession worldwide, both in terms of helping local optical organisations win the ear of government in terms of recognition and scopes of practice, as well as ensuring the highest standards of practice and quality vision for all.
Fiona Anderson is the current president of the IOA. She explains the challenges facing optics across the globe today, and how the IOA can help: “The challenges come from the fact that optics is underrepresented in many countries, while in others the profession is under attack. The IOA aims to have a valuable input in places where optics is in its infancy: here, the IOA’s challenge is to forge partnerships to raise standards across the globe and help countries who are getting started. Another challenge is to be pro-active and not re-active. The IOA aims to bring opticians together to consider the future and create plans for development of the profession, rather than responding to circumstance.” Since the IOA was founded, information and communication systems have been transformed. It is now possible for opticians across the globe to network on a daily basis, sharing ideas and supporting each other through the internet. Fiona continues, “I see the priorities for the IOA being:
to increase visibility and membership. One of the ways to do this is through a refreshing new image, increased use of social media and a vibrant new website which can reach opticians across the world. The website will highlight the work of our profession to the benefit of opticians but also the public who deserve to know more about what an optician does and what they can expect from a visit to an optician;
to engage with professionals all over the world via associated social media channels to provide a support mechanism helping opticians deliver the best standards of care. It will also ensure that the IOA is an active and relevant part of opticians’ lives, meeting modern practitioners on the social media channels they use to communicate and network today;
and to act as a bridge between optical professionals to create relationships and a professional network to strengthen and improve the profession and share best practice and continued development. Our new website and social media channels can allow every optician who has access to a mobile to learn more about their profession and develop their own skills and knowledge.”
The current membership of the IOA includes a range of English speaking countries in Asia, Oceania and North America as well as the UK and Ireland who participate in the IOA, but this has been changing since the IOA developed its new look and approach. Elaine Grisdale of ABDO is currently also acting as Development Director at the IOA and she says, “Our aim is to be more active. We want to persuade the member associations to communicate more with their national members to encourage engagement with professionals abroad. In the future we hope that individual opticians in countries where there is no national organization, can join the IOA via our website and they can then become a member of a wider optical family. Some associations like the ABDO in the UK and the OAC in Canada pay a token membership fee per national member to give membership of the IOA as an added blanket member benefit. We are also working on individual membership categories and corporate membership for industry partners who support and encourage the development of dispensing optics.”
There are an estimated 600K opticians worldwide, but up to now there has been no international representation or way to bring the community together to share best practice and to make sure it evolves in the right way. Fiona says, “There are 200k optometrists and they have a world organization to push their agenda. I believe an optical practice isn't judged on the eye exam, it is judged on the quality of the product bought and how well it works for the consumer in terms of vision quality, making life easier, aesthetics and comfort. It's in everyone's interest in the sector that the opticians do a first-class job, stay up to date and gain the correct skills to succeed. Hopefully the IOA will facilitate that and the network we create will assist in the development of the profession.”
Through face to face interaction with other professional bodies and via the conduit of national organisations , the IOA aims to play a more active political role to advance the profession and protect the public. Elaine says, “I see the IOA encouraging development of the profession in countries where there are few resources, acting as an international reference for excellence in optics for national bodies fighting with Ministries for recognition or increased scopes of practice, helping promote dispensing skills via the website, CET, train the trainer and advice and guidance. It can play a role in the promotion of the profession to the public with the emphasis on explaining the need for professionals to deliver the best quality vision and products. The IOA could also promote opportunities for professionals to move to other countries to experience work abroad. It will be able to work with industry partners to look at areas for development both in terms of geography and product knowledge. Elaine Grisdale says “In that time I spent globetrotting, I created many liaisons with opinion leaders and institutions around the world in optics, optometry and ophthalmology. I sit on various international and European committees and I attend international optical events. Now representing the IOA I have the chance to speak about how we can work more effectively to ensure the public has better outcomes when seeking eyecare and adapted eyewear.” She adds, “As Director of Development, it is my job to breathe new life into the IOA. The demographics in the optical sector have changed certainly since the roots of the IOA in 1951 and even since 1994 when the International Guild of Opticians became the International Opticians Association. Today, the IOA should not just be for business owners, but should be there to represent all opticians no matter who they work for and should help them to develop as professionals. Our aim is to ensure that opticians are not just seen as shop-keepers nor as engaging in purely commercial activities. I aim to push the agenda making sure that the profession of optician will be part of a healthcare profession where opticians will enjoy a better status and a place at the table when eyecare is being discussed. This will be increasingly important in the coming years with the aging population and the need for services such as low vision management.” She continues, “Business matters will not be ignored. We will make sure that the IOA also creates a forum for business development to happen. 80% of the turnover of a practice which also undertakes eye exams, is estimated to comes from the dispensing element and the supply of optical appliances. The investment in clinical and diagnostic equipment and optometric staff could not happen as efficiently without the work of the optician.”
If you are interested in finding out more about the IOA, you can visit www.ioassn.org, which will offer a growing range of training, career & education information, with inspiring stories from opticians around the globe.