“The membership is, after all, the ultimate authority in the AOP”
The AOP’s chief executive, Adam Sampson, on learning the profession from the ground up and the importance of listening to members
19 April 2023
Ordinarily, when you start a chief executive job, particularly when you are joining a new sector, your first priority is to try to get to know the new community you are joining. For example, when I became legal ombudsman, I spent my first six months on the road, meeting and greeting, talking and listening. From an efficiency perspective, it made little sense and, to be honest, there was more than one evening when I would wonder why I was spending a wet Tuesday night in Stoke or Swansea. But the effort paid off: not only did I understand the profession far more at the end of that six months, all those train journeys had been a visible desire to learn.
Sadly, that sort of strategy has not been possible at the AOP as when I started in this role nearly two years ago now, it was right in the second wave of the pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions were in full force, staff were working remotely, and optometrists’ attention was necessarily more focused on managing the day-to-day consequences of the crisis than teaching the new know-nothing CEO of the AOP the basics of the profession.
By the time the pandemic was finally over, I had been too long in post to be able to get away with posing as a sector neophyte.
The day-to-day reality of work as an optometrist is changing rapidly, and the pace of change is quickening rather than slowing
Since things have opened up again, I have started to try to get out and about a bit more, making sure I have had a presence on the ground in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, for example. Yet I am all too aware that I have only met a fraction of the AOP membership – and whatever the formal governance structures, the membership is, after all, the ultimate authority in the AOP. This is why events like 100% Optical are so important – times when the profession gets together to learn, look at the latest technology and products and, importantly, interact with peers outside their local network or firm.
For me, the chance to mingle with over 10,000 people from the eye care sector is particularly valuable. But I recognise that while the conversations I had at 100% Optical, though useful and enjoyable – optometrists are so nice – I have still a long way to go to get fully under the skin of what different members of the profession think and feel. This is why I am so anxious to see the results of our recent member survey, in which over 3000 of you gave your views about a wide range of issues, from what you feel about the service we provide and how we might make it even better, to your current day-to-day experiences, and hopes and fears for the future direction of the profession.
The part of the survey I am most anxious to see is where we asked you to talk about your future ambitions and aspirations in your career. As this edition of OT discusses, the day-to-day reality of work as an optometrist is changing rapidly, and the pace of change is quickening rather than slowing. Not only is the profile of individuals joining the profession very different from what it was two decades ago, so is the shape of the potential career path for them.
By better understanding what members want and feel, we can both develop our services to provide greater support, and use our (growing) influence with policymakers to try to shape the future in members’ favour
My hope is that, by better understanding what members want and feel, we can both develop our services to provide greater support and use our (growing) influence with policymakers to try to shape the future in members’ favour. One of my key memories of those wet Tuesday nights in Stoke and Swansea was of listening to solicitors venting their belief that their own representative body did not understand the issues they were facing. It is vital the same to be said of us.