As a teaching clinic on the 4th floor of Kurrajong House on Collins Street, Melbourne, the Australian College of Optometry (ACO) has continued to grow. Incorporated in 1940, the ACO was the first not for profit membership institution in Australia to teach a 4-year full time Optometry course, with its first students enrolled in 1941.
The ACO has continued to build on its commitment to education, through provision of clinical training in a public health setting to pre-registration university optometry students across Australia, and through expansion and innovation of education delivery to meet the current and future needs of members and the wider optometry profession. The latter has grown since the establishment of a continuing education unit in 1974.
Our highly valued and important work providing eye care services to communities experiencing disadvantage began in 1955 when we received our first grant for this purpose from the Victorian Government. Fast forward 30 years to 1985, when the Victorian Government made a key decision to establish an integrated, coordinated public health eye care program called the Victorian Eyecare Service (VES).
The ACO has been responsible for administering this important initiative on behalf of the Victorian Government for over 30 years, over which time more than 2 million Victorians experiencing disadvantage have benefited from quality eye care services aimed at correcting refractive error and preventing eye disease. In 2018 the ACO, in partnership with rural practitioners, provided over 77,000 patient consultations and dispensed almost 50,000 spectacles or other visual aids to more than 62,000 patients under the VES.
Today our main clinic is in Carlton with a network of clinics in metropolitan Melbourne and a mobile eye care service. Outreach services began in 1998 for patients with disabilities that could not access mainstream services, and expanded in 2003 with services to Indigenous Australians, homeless and other vulnerable Victorians. The ACO provides a coordinated program of general and advanced clinics and outreach services across Victoria, including services for the aged and frail, Aboriginal communities, refugees and asylum seekers, children from disadvantaged schools, homeless and other high-risk groups. Going forward the ACO seeks to adapt and expand this important public health eye care model to benefit more Australian’s experiencing disadvantage.
In 1972 the ACO reached another milestone with the establishment of its research division, the National Vision Research Institute (NVRI), to pursue research in vision and the disorders of vision. The NVRI was made possible through donations from the optometry community and later strengthened in 1979 and 2001 through a generous donation and substantial bequest from the Schultz Laubman Schultz Endowment Fund Trust. Over the past 45 years, the NVRI has carried out basic, applied and clinical vision research, with current research priorities including neurotechnology, with a strong focus on the development of prosthetic vision devices (or bionic eyes), clinical optometry and public health, to improve the understanding of vision science, eye care and treatment.