The importance of being educated

The AOP is not Apple or Google, but it is as focused on innovating for its members’ professional futures as the tech companies are on innovating the technology they will use, explains Henrietta Alderman

Henrietta Alderman

We all know that technology is changing fast, but sometimes we lose track of the profound difference it makes. To take one example, in the year 2000, a music-lover would have needed the boot of their car if they wanted to take their music collection of CD and a means of playing it with them on their travels.

Then in 2001, Apple brought out the iPod – and suddenly you could fit the whole lot into your pocket. Now, you don’t even need to upload your music to a device: you can subscribe to a streaming service and the whole world of recorded music is a couple of clicks away.

Technology is moving so fast it can seem hard to keep up, let alone have a clear vision of where it might get to – but the fourth industrial revolution is here, and we need to keep pace.

We have seen, and are seeing, the continual growth of artificial intelligence, universal internet, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles. We can already see the effects of machines and artificial intelligence on refraction and disease diagnosis – and if you mix that with online retail, 3D printing and Google glass, the future is going to look very different.

"The role of the optometrist will be much more about human interaction and valued communication to patients on the back of the information supplied"

Learning patterns

What does that mean for the professions generally and to optometrists specifically? We are accustomed to a world where machines do the routine tasks and humans make the judgments, but we will need to adjust to one where the machines not only do the routine tasks but also make the judgments. The role for the optometrist will be much more about human interaction and valued communication to patients on the back of the information supplied. The ability to explain the machine’s findings to a lay person in an intelligible and caring way will be even more crucial in the future than it is now.

Within the optometry workforce, we can also see the effects of the generational change and they come with different attitudes to work and careers. There is a desire to work with greater flexibility and to establish a work-life balance. These attitudes, combined with the changes in technology, will produce very different work patterns and growth in different and often ‘softer’ skill sets.

Your views

In 2017, health and wellbeing was the AOP’s theme; this year it is education. Our focus will be both in the traditional sense of education and training for members – see the AOP’s CET booklet that will be enclosed within the January edition of OT – and in respect of educating the public and stakeholders in the role members play in defending the nation’s eye health. There is also an element of educating ourselves at the AOP on the needs of members, through membership benefits research.

In 2018, we would like to find out as much as we can about what optometrists want in the future and how they see their lives progressing in terms of work patterns and aspirations. We also want to understand how employers are experiencing this change, and what preparations they are making for employing the optometrists of tomorrow. To that end, one of the three surveys we will be conducting in 2018 will be a deep-dive into workforce attitudes, to ensure that we are equipped to help our members in the future. Please respond to this one, our Voice of Optometry panel, and our membership benefits survey – it will be time well spent.