Expanding Networks and Knowledge: BCLAAt a time when the practise of optometry is becoming increasingly sophisticated, the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) is offering practitioners valuable opportunities to expand their career prospects by engaging with colleagues around the world, accessing the latest evidencebased research into ocular conditions and treatments, and participating in global research. While it is Professor Jennifer Craig’s role as a BCLA ambassador to promote the association, her positive experience as a long-standing association member and fellow is undeniable. Indeed, the therapeutically qualified academic optometrist from the Department of Ophthalmology at University of Auckland said her fellowship has been enormously beneficial throughout her career as both a scientist and clinician. “I was inspired to join the BCLA in 1994, during the course of my PhD. I quickly came to admire their balance between science and clinical practice, which differentiates their conference from more research-focussed conferences such as ARVO. “As clinicians, a lot of what we do tends to be based on anecdote which is not optimal. We need a sound scientific evidence base to inform what we do. I enjoy the opportunity to contribute to the evidence base through my academic work and I appreciate the way in which the BCLA presents such evidence, in an accessible format, through workshops, conferences, online and printed resources, so that clinicians can readily apply it in everyday practice.” Professor Jennifer Craig This is something that Dr Solana Cua, a Balwyn, Victoria-based optometrist, has found especially valuable in her practice. “I joined BCLA in August 2021 – I’d recently taken on a role at Joyce Optometrists and I was interested in furthering my knowledge on anterior eye and contact lenses. I’d been seeing a lot of patients presenting with different types of dry eye during the pandemic and I wanted to ensure I was managing them well and wasn’t missing anything.” Having undertaken BCLA’s dry eye course, Ms Cua said she now feels more confident when managing contact lens patients with dry eye disease. “Having completed the dry eye certificate, I have been putting what I’ve learnt into practice. I’ve also benefited from (virtually) meeting other optometrists from around the world and learning about the different ways they practise.“The information that BCLA disseminates on a regular basis is very useful – there is so much information out there, it’s hard to keep up, but they summarise key papers that have been recently released and provide links to further reading.” Mark Hinds owns a specialty contact lens practice in Queensland, and is actively involved with the Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia as well as the Orthokeratology Society of Oceania (oso.net.au). He said joining BCLA in 2013 enabled him to expand his horizons further. “BCLA helps provide a global view of practice, innovation, products, and resources, and keeps me motivated to stay ahead of the curve,” he said. Like Ms Cua, he appreciates access to BCLA’s quality, structured education program, which includes examinations and is globally recognised. Having become a BCLA Fellow he said, “In my opinion, the BCLA’s Fellowship program is at the forefront of contact lens education. It provides a collegiate and self-perpetuating educational process that helps the individual, the profession, and the industry. “In no way does it promote ego or elitism, but rather a nurturing culture of inclusivity. From an Australian and New Zealand practice perspective, optometrists will find this process rewarding but not difficult.” Describing the BCLA’s bi-annual conference as “awesome”, he said “I always look forward to seeing my international colleagues from all around the globe and world class presentations in one location”. For Prof Craig, the opportunity to meet and collaborate with international colleagues has been critical, in her opinion, to the development of her career which now sees her as a global leader in ocular surface disease and dry eye research. “I have met the most wonderful colleagues who have become life-long friends, mentors, and collaborators in my research. “Right from the beginning, I have been introduced to people who have inspired my research. I was encouraged to present posters where I received invaluable feedback from clinicians and scientists, and even awards, which helped build my confidence; I have been given the opportunity to participate in and run workshops and to deliver keynote presentations, moderate sessions at the conferences, and contribute to initiatives like the recent BCLA CLEAR papers. All of these have helped expand my knowledge, maintain an important clinical focus and ultimately, build my profile as a scientific researcher.” Prof Craig said running workshops is as valuable to academics as it is to the clinicians who are participating. “As researchers we find the workshops are great learning opportunities that enable us to upskill the profession but also remain in touch with what is happening in clinical settings all around the world.“ Seeking answers through research invariably raises even more questions... “Seeking answers through research invariably raises even more questions than it answers. That’s what research is all about and our interactions with practising clinicians play a critical role in this process.” Prof Craig said information that practising optometrists acquire from BCLA’s workshops and courses stands to effect changes in everyday clinical practice for the benefit of patients. “We’ve presented outcomes from TFOS DEWS II at BCLA events – complex information from lengthy academic papers, distilled into practical recommendations that guide dry eye management around the world. Practitioners and, ultimately, patients benefit from this work. Along the same lines, the BCLA initiated the CLEAR Reports – academic reports on the evidence surrounding contact lenses. With so many papers being published in the scientific literature each year, workshops such as this are becoming increasingly vital in informing practitioners on the key findings. “Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom are fortunate in their level of education on contact lenses, but not all countries have the opportunity to achieve the same standard of education and awareness, so BCLA international conferences aim to assist in upskilling practitioners worldwide. Minimum standards of care through to the current gold standard will tend to be described, along with all the different levels of care in between, with the corresponding level of expertise and investment in equipment, knowledge and skills required. This encourages practitioners to become more involved in contact lenses at the level they can achieve, depending on their interest and ability to invest in time and resources.” The BCLA runs a biennial conference in the United Kingdom, along with courses and workshops throughout each year. The 2023 conference will take place from 9–11 June in Manchester, United Kingdom. To find out more about membership, events, the certificates and fellowship program, visit: www.bcla.org.uk.
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