AOP Council elections

What it is like being on AOP Council

OT  speaks to four AOP Councillors who will stand down from their positions this year about their highlights on Council and why they would encourage optometrists to put themselves forward

A group photograph of AOP Council 

When the AOP opens elections for its Council later this month (February 15) a number of Councillors who have served for between nine and 17 years will be standing down from their regional representative roles, having come to the end of their tenures.

Here four Councillors talk to OT about their experiences of Council, including structural and representative change, how it has supported them professionally, and why they would encourage members to put themselves forward for nomination.

Optometrist and independent practice owner, Kevin Wallace, put himself forward and subsequently joined AOP Council in 2006 after a then Councillor for Scotland who was stepping down tapped him on the shoulder and encouraged him to stand.

“He suggested that I might like to do it,” Wallace explained to OT, adding: “It seemed like something that would be interesting, so I put my name forward.”

Optometrist and independent practice owner, Tushar Majithia, joined AOP Council in 2014, opting to stand to represent the East Midlands region because he wanted to add some variety to his professional life and felt that being on Council would give him the opportunity to give something back to the profession.

“Having been a member of the AOP throughout my career, the prospect of being involved with such a highly regarded organisation was extremely appealing,” Majithia told OT.

Optometrist and independent practice owner, Stewart Mitchell, joined AOP Council to represent Yorkshire and the Humber in 2012, after working with the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) for a year. “The politics of eye care was interesting, and I wanted to try and help influence the direction we have moved in,” he told OT.

For locum optometrist Francesca Marchetti, representing West Midlands, the main reason to stand for AOP Council was that, paired with the experience of already being on another optical council, she “loved being at the front line in the world of optometry.”

What being on Council really means

Each of these Councillors, who have served more than four decades on AOP Council between them, have observed, driven and supported an incredible amount of change in the profession during their time representing the AOP.

Being part of change has meant a lot to each of them in different ways, they shared with OT.

Reflecting on the evolution of the profession, Wallace said: “Things have changed a lot in that time.”

17 years ago, “we weren’t too far removed from when optometrists had to refer all pathology to a doctor, and the extended roles and shared care that are common now were only faint on the horizon,” Wallace described, adding: “It has been an interesting time to be involved.”

While AOP Council strives to influence and drive change in the profession itself, each of the Councillors are keen to highlight how Council has helped them develop professionally over the years too.

“I have learnt a great deal about all aspects of the optical profession, as well as the healthcare industry, since being on the Council,” Majithia shared, adding that being on Council gave him the opportunity to meet and connect with incredible people, who he would otherwise not have had the chance to meet.

“It has really added extra interest to my career and has given me the chance to influence the profession. I have been involved with roles that I would not have dreamed of before joining the Council, such as representing AOP on National Eye Health Week, the OFNC and the Optical Benevolent Fund,” he added.

Mitchell expressed a similar view. “Meeting with a diverse group of colleagues is great as working in a small practice can be isolating,” he said, adding: “The discussions and topics raised at Council provide an insight on where the profession is going, and where the challenges and threats are coming from.”

Being part of AOP Council since 2010, as well as more recently Board, having been elected on in 2022, has supported Marchetti’s confidence in practice.

“It has allowed me to step up in my role as a committee member on my local optical committee (LOC), becoming secretary. Being on Council has also allowed me to be professionally media trained, to become a spokesperson for the AOP, which opened so many doors for me both professionally and personally,” she shared.

Wallace, who is now also a clinical advisor to the AOP, supporting its legal and regulatory teams, has thrived on being able to contribute to the AOP advice being sent out to members all around the UK.

“My Council role started at a time when there were a lot of changes happening, particularly in Scotland, and that allowed me to be involved in Making Accurate Claims, and subsequently work on guidance for other areas,” Wallace explained.

“It’s vital that as well as accurate legal and regulatory advice, we have input from optometrists working in practice, and that is one area where the input of Councillors is very important,” he highlighted.

Council changes

During their tenures on Council, the Council itself has gone through much change too.

This has included structural change, ranging from how and when members are elected to the introduction of appointed positions, and a cap to the length of time a Councillor can serve.

Sharing her experiences of this change, Marchetti said: “Initially the Council was much bigger than it is today, with more representatives from each region. There were a lot of Council members who had been there for a significant period of time.”

“As the Council changed and different Council members left and new Council members arrived, they brought fresh ideas, fresh challenges and fresh blood,” Marchetti reflected, adding: “There is now a more diverse Council which represents our ever evolving and ever-changing profession.”

Mitchell agreed, sharing of Council, “it’s become leaner, but is now more representative of the way our members practice.”

It is not only the structure of Council that has changed over the years, as Wallace observed.

“The makeup of the Council has changed significantly over the years,” Wallace said, explaining: “When I first joined Council a significant majority [of Councillors] were middle-aged men in grey suits. I suppose I’ll have to admit that I’ve now joined their ranks by age (although l don’t own a grey suit), but the Council is now much more representative of our profession.”

Majithia reflected this change too. “Council has become increasingly inclusive during the time I have been involved and [now] everyone has a voice,” he told OT.

“The make-up of the Council ensures representation of all aspects of the profession, from early career representatives, hospital optometrists, locums, dispensing opticians to representatives of independent and multiple practices.”

Describing what is involved in the role of a Councillor, Mitchell highlighted that Council meets three times a year to “discuss and debate.” Councillors are also allocated to a committee or sub committee, such as policy or membership or domiciliary, which meet via Zoom up to three times a year. 

Stepping down

Having come to the end of their tenures, all four Councillors will officially step down the AOP’s June annual general meeting, where new Councillors will also begin their roles.

Majithia shared that he will be “extremely sad” to leave AOP Council, explaining he will “definitely miss colleagues on the Council, as well as the incredible AOP team.” 

When asked what he would say to encourage others in his area to consider standing,

Majithia emphasised: “Being on Council gives the opportunity to help shape the future of the profession and adds an extra dimension to your career. It is an extremely rewarding experience.”

Wallace admits talking to OT, he “hadn’t thought about [stepping down] until recently, but it is an odd feeling.”

“[Council] has obviously been a long time and a big part of my life and not being on it will take some getting used to,” he said.

“I hope that I have done my part to make a difference in some way over my time,” he added.

Wallace would also “definitely encourage others to stand for Council.”

“It is interesting and professionally rewarding,” he told OT. “Even after difficult discussions I always felt good about the future of our profession and the capable hands steering AOP input,” he added.

While Marchetti said she is sad about the ending of her time on Council, she also feels, “I can walk away and say, ‘My job is done’.”

“I have given it my all, I have enjoyed every single minute. I have made great friends, some of whom I would never have come across if I had not been on Council,” she added.

Encouraging those in her consistency and others to consider putting themselves forward for AOP Council this year, Marchetti said: “Go for it, and enjoy it all. Go to every meeting, every dinner, every pre-meeting, every event and realise that your contribution to Council is contributing to the future of our fantastic profession.”

Of his time on Council, Mitchell said, “It’s been a pleasure, but a turnaround of Councillors is essential to encourage others to stand.

“Local optometry issues being heard is as important as the views of specific sectors of the profession. As I believe in a democracy, it’s important that our members have a choice of candidate to choose from.”

To read more on Council elections and how to put yourself forward, visit the AOP website.