RANZCO 2021 arrives in ChCh

SES, 04 April 2021

Close to home event far and away a hit with attendees

The RANZCO 2021 Branch Meeting recently took place in Christchurch, the first time we’ve hosted it here since prior to the earthquakes. It proved worth the wait, the event seeing over 300 ophthalmic nurses, technicians and ophthalmologists travelling to attend – and even more attending online.

This is the most important event on the ophthalmology calendar for New Zealand’s ophthalmologists, eye nurses and technicians. It provides a valuable opportunity for attendees to learn and connect, with industry partners and sponsors providing the latest and greatest in technological advancement to share.

Dr Logan Robinson was the chairperson of the March event. Southern Eye’s Dr Jo-Anne Pon was on the organising committee. With their efforts (and help from a fantastic event team) the occasion proved hugely valuable to the nurses, specialists and wider ophthalmic industry.

It was the first ‘hybrid’ conference for RANZCO with the two days of presentations at the Christchurch Town Hall joined virtually by an additional 50 people, including three keynote speakers from Australia and the UK.

“The opportunity to access this international expertise was a huge advantage for the event,” said Logan. “It ensured we didn’t need to compromise a thing when it came to the quality of knowledge on offer.”

Sessions were included on sustainability, stress management, the work/life balance and digital-ready workforces.

It also meant that the conference could go ahead without fear of Covid-based disruptions. ‘The Hub’ was set up online to ensure event organisers could quickly move presentations into the virtual world should the physical one prove too uncertain.  

Delivering this stability in event planning also tied in nicely to the conference theme: ‘Balance’.

This approach resulted in a few unexpected keynote speakers, with presentations covering topics many may not typically have expected from a RANZCO conference. Sessions were included on sustainability, stress management, the work/life balance and digital-ready workforces.

“It was important to extend the scope,” says Logan. “Over the three days of the event we wanted to get everyone thinking about not just the latest cutting edge scientific research, clinical updates and technological advancements but also the wider context of where this development is taking place at a patient, nursing, specialist and industry level. It’s why we focused on other important aspects of ophthalmology, such as stress and burnout, Maori and Pasifika values and climate change.”

   “I looked around the James Hay theatre and saw about 250 people with their eyes closed practicing breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques.”

The response was overwhelmingly positive, many stating the wider focus an idea whose time has come.

“This was a bit of a gamble, a departure from previous meetings, and we were not sure how these talks would be received,” says Logan. “But we had fantastic presenters for these talks.”

“At one point during a 30 minute session on dealing with stress and the importance of breathing, I looked around the James Hay theatre and saw about 250 people with their eyes closed practicing breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques. It was definitely not your typical meeting fodder!”

Asked for other highlights and Dr Robinson speaks of the importance of Dr Rod Carr’s presentation, the Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission providing an engaging and wide-ranging talk on climate change science. Logan was also impressed by the approach of two other atypical speeches.

“While all of the presentations were of a high standard it was some of the personal details within two talks in our final session that stood out and inspired,” he says.

“The first was by Dr Genevieve Oliver, who discussed her own personal struggles with stress and burnout, and provided some great practical advice about how and where to seek help. We then had Dr Malcolm McKellar talk about how to find balance in life. With a smattering of poetry and personal insight Dr McKellar shared how family, service and charity towards others have helped him flourish.”

“Covid required the committee to think on their feet when it came to cancellation risks and any ensuing financial consequences”

The presentations weren’t the only departure from ‘business as usual’. The event dinner, normally a formal affair, was held in the more relaxed setting of the Riverside Market, Christchurch’s culinary destination providing the perfect setting for a casual meal with plenty of great conversation.

“Covid required the committee to think on their feet when it came to cancellation risks and any ensuing financial consequences,” says Logan. “And it paid off. There was a fantastic turnout, everyone could mingle easily and there were plenty of opportunities to catch up.”

After two years of planning there was certainly some trepidation as the day in March drew nearer.

“We’d all but completely organised the previous meeting in 2020 before it was cancelled,” says Logan. “This time round we had a lot more to consider. Thankfully we had the expert help of Karen McLean from Conference Makers – who really did most of the hard work!”

The combined effort clearly was worth it. Attendance for this branch meeting the highest ever recorded, with many sharing it was the best yet. 

For Logan the event also provided another considerable benefit – showcasing his hometown to a wider New Zealand audience.

“Being able to welcome the ophthalmology community back to Christchurch to enjoy our rebuilt city was really important for everyone here at Southern Eye. Each day we see this city getting better and better. Sharing the change and renewal here was a proud moment for the team.”