(L-R) Andri T, Nuwan De Silva and Geoff Demare
By Jeff Megahan
Meet the OD students who put together a two-day conference with lectures, workshops and social activities.
Final-year students Nuwan De Silva, Andri T and Geoff Demare are the co-convenors who led the student teams that organised, financed and managed the 2016 Doctor of Optometry Student Conference on 22-23 September at the Melbourne Brain Centre at the University of Melbourne.
Nuwan is a self-proclaimed ‘budding entrepreneur’ and the owner and founder of Melbourne Dapper. Andri T was a high school teacher at a rural school in Victoria before taking up optometry, and is involved in teaching English, maths and science to refugee children. Geoff gained his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Manitoba, Canada and hopes one day to open his own practice in a rural area.
The two-day conference included a sponsors’ arcade, refreshments and presentations on an array of topics by experts in their fields, from low vision and contact lenses to GPs to Optometry Australia’s national clinical policy adviser.
Nuwan has been part of student conference committees behind these annual events since 2014. This year, as head of the social committee, he built the ODSC website and collaborated with the other convenors to create a sponsorship prospectus that will serve as a template for future conferences.
The Optometry department of the University of Melbourne undertakes these conferences to ensure that student-suggested topics are addressed. ‘Sometimes the other conferences don’t cover topics that the students want to know more about, and sometimes there are topics that we feel could be discussed better,’ Nuwan said.
The theme for this year’s event was ‘Interdisciplinary management’, which was established by the education committee, led by Andri T. ‘This was a great topic,’ Nuwan said. ‘We had to reach out to other health-care professions and the response was fantastic.’
More than 20 speakers participated. Keynote speaker Professor Hugh Taylor discussed Indigenous eye health, Catherine Granger spoke on the role of physiotherapists in treating chronic disease, Christina Bryant spoke on the mental health of the elderly population, and Karen Williams spoke on the work of occupational therapists.
Nuwan would like to see the ODSC expand to include optometry students from other universities. ‘Unfortunately, given the venue size, we couldn’t go too far above our capacity of 250 students this year,’ he said. ‘In years to come, I’m sure invitations to students from other universities will be extended, even if it’s just a few delegates from each university.’
For students looking to replicate the success of ODSC at their own university, Nuwan advises a close working relationship with your optometry departments. ‘Everything we did at ODSC, we made sure we ran by the department,’ he said.
‘Remember that it’s a long process,’ he said. ‘We were appointed as convenors in November last year and we started contacting speakers in March and April and sponsors very soon after that, but still things were being worked on until September.’
Nuwan, Andri and Geoff will now pass the reins to the students who will organise next year’s ODSC event. Nuwan says the experience has provided him with lessons that will help him in his future career. ‘I learned about delegation and leadership,’ he said. ‘I’m better at communicating with sponsors and people; that’s not something I would have been exposed to in the curriculum. And of course, the actual content of the program; I learned a lot from that.’
The experience left him with one big question, which he says he has asked himself many times: ‘How are they pulling off something like SRC?’
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