Life after Cert IV: professional development for optical dispensers

So you’ve completed Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing. What next? While completion of the qualification is a considerable accomplishment, it by no means signals the end of an optical dispensers’ professional development journey. ProFile looks at the wide array of professional development options available to both qualified and non-qualified dispensers to help them extend their skills and knowledge, better service their customers, and advance their careers.

More than 1,500 Australian and New Zealand Specsavers dispensers have completed Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing (Cert IV).

Cert IV is an external accreditation that is facilitated by the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD) in New Zealand, and by RMIT and ACOD in Australia. Over a course duration of up to 24 months, Cert IV students learn advanced dispensing techniques, how to troubleshoot unusual and challenging prescriptions, and sales skills, as well as ‘soft skills’ such as patient communication.

In Australia and New Zealand, Cert IV is the recognised route to professional advancement for dispensers. However, Specsavers Australia & New Zealand’s major investments into the dispensing profession and the relationships it has built with key industry stakeholders, both locally and internationally, have yielded new professional development options for dispensers that allow their learning to continue long after they have completed their qualification.

Fellowship Dispensing Diploma (FBDO OS)

Run by the renowned UK-based Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) and supported by Specsavers, the FBDO OS is a Level 6, degree-level qualification in ophthalmic dispensing that covers a comprehensive array of knowledge and skills that exceed the level taught within the current Australian and New Zealand optical dispensing syllabus. It was previously available as distance learning program; however, Specsavers is now working with ABDO to facilitate face-to-face workshops and examinations in Australia to support the online study component.

The qualification is undertaken over three years and is delivered through blended learning, including practice-based, block release and distance learning coursework. It is a worldwide-recognised qualification, and is generally regarded as the gold standard in dispensing education internationally.

The course has an in-depth focus on all aspects of dispensing practices, ranging from paediatrics to contact lenses and low vision. It also includes in-depth study of abnormal ocular conditions and standards of practice. A full syllabus can be accessed on the ABDO website.

The first official intake for the local FBDO program begins in September 2019 and applications are now open to both Australian and New Zealand dispensers.

Specsavers team members can find out more information about the course and express their interest by contacting Anna-Mary Carroll, Dispensing Development Manager, via

The course is also open to non-Specsavers dispensers, who can access more information and enrolment details via the ABDO College website.

Specsavers Dispensing Conference

The Specsavers Dispensing Conference (SDC) is a one-day event delivered in a roadshow-style format across Australia. The event is open to all qualified optical dispensers – both Specsavers and non-Specsavers – and student optical dispensers who are currently studying to obtain the Cert IV qualification. The Australian conference complements Specsavers’ sponsorship of the annual Association of Dispensing Opticians of New Zealand (ADONZ) conference in New Zealand.

The conference program includes practical and theoretical workshops presented by world-class speakers. The event also includes opportunities for dispensers to network with their peers, major suppliers and with experts in the field.

The 2019 conference, which takes place from 4 to 9 August in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, represents the third edition of SDC, and the event’s calibre is exemplified by this year’s keynote speaker: Professor Mo Jalie, author of the core dispensing text, Principles of Ophthalmic Lenses.

Other speakers include Alicia Thompson and Miranda Richardson from ABDO, Donald Crichton from the International Opticians Association, Sofia Fazal from Carl Zeiss Vision, UK, and Craig Johnston from Younger Optics.

Event details and registration information can be found on the SDC3 event page.

New Zealand professional development events

The regulation of the dispensing profession in New Zealand means the country has a number of development opportunities available to help dispensing opticians fulfil the continuing professional development requirements that allow them to maintain their registration.

One of the most well-established events in the New Zealand dispensing professional development calendar is the ADONZ annual conference. The conference is said to be the only New Zealand event held specifically for dispensing opticians. Its program focusses on educational sessions designed to further dispensing opticians’ career and skills, with the 2018 event covering topics such as business and ethics, clinic studies, and safety.

Following on from its successful sponsorship of the event in 2018, Specsavers will again be supporting the ADONZ annual conference in 2019 as a platinum sponsor. The 2019 conference will take place from 1 to 3 November at the Napier Conference Centre, and Specsavers will be sponsoring a number of dispensing students to attend the event.

Further details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Team discussions and dispensing case studies

Qualifications are valuable opportunities to enhance theoretical and practical knowledge and for career progression, and events such as SDC and the ADONZ annual conference are important avenues through which an optical dispenser can stay abreast of new advancements and technology in the profession, while growing their professional network.

However, some of the best learning can be achieved on the shop floor. Each customer represents an opportunity for a dispenser to practise and hone their skills and to learn from their experience. This learning can be further extended through peer discussion. By opening up the discussion of interesting, challenging and even common cases to the broader team, dispensers can gain perspective into the different solutions and approaches that are possible. Through regular case discussions, dispensing teams can share their collective experience and learn from one another.

This knowledge can also be shared beyond the team. ProFile accepts dispensing case study submissions from both Specsavers and non-Specsavers qualified dispensers year-round, with a view to sharing knowledge between dispensers and promoting the advancement of the broader dispensing profession.

More information is available in ProFile’s case study submission requirements.

The value of professional development

Due to the regulation of the New Zealand market, a certain level of professional development is required every two years in order for dispensing opticians to maintain their qualification status. Although this is not the case in the de-regulated Australian market, professional development should represent more than just a tick-box exercise for anyone involved in optical dispensing.

For the ophthalmic profession, professional development is a crucial element in ensuring the industry continues to be relevant in an age where technology is beginning to render some roles redundant.

For practice owners, professional development can help ensure dispensers are engaged by allowing them expand their skillset while also providing them with an opportunity for personal growth. In a highly competitive market, it can also provide the practice with a strong point of differentiation in terms of expertise and customer service.

For individual dispensers, professional development is not only an opportunity for career advancement and professional growth – it is a way to ensure that each interaction on the shop floor leads to a well-informed, satisfied and happy customer whose eye care and eyewear needs have been met, or possibly even exceeded.