The two regulated optical roles, optometry and dispensing optics, have protected status as a professional group. Only they are able to perform their role. However, I have a concern that we take that protected status for granted and do not in some cases realise what it means to be a professional? A number of recent examples in the optical world suggest that this may be the case, at least for some, and that this may be risking that protected status, with the benefits that brings in terms of status and remuneration. It is not enough to be competent or expert at your job, the term professional has a significantly wider meaning.

A profession will be built upon a specialist educational background and has various characteristics including; a greater degree of responsibility and accountability, maintenance of skills through ongoing training, dealing with clients rather than customers and using knowledge and skills to the benefit of others. I believe these will be broadly understood by everyone. I would ask though if we all understand that a profession is governed by a code of conduct or ethics and hence a profession should be a career for individuals that want to commit to competence, morality, and integrity and so bring more to society. A professional needs to behave ethically to protect their patients and also to remember that their behaviour, both in their professional and private life, does not damage confidence in their profession.

Given that background it is a surprise that at the end of the General Optical Council three year Continuing Education and Training cycle, there are always a significant number of optometrists and dispensing opticians who have not undertaken the required CET to meet their statutory requirement. Prompted by reminders in the optical press and from the GOC, I am sure that most will manage to get their numbers up, however, it

illustrates that many fellow professionals do not really understand that as a professional it is, and should be, an absolute requirement that maintaining and developing their skills and knowledge is part and parcel of the role. Completing CET is not just about getting points to satisfy the regulator, it is about meeting our professional responsibilities and the expectations of the public as we would wish for in other professions.

Another feature of a profession is that it has a professional body, in our case the College of Optometrists and the Association of British Dispensing Opticians. These bodies set the peer standard for practise, through evidence based guidance, so we know we are giving our patients an appropriate level of care. Without this guidance there is the danger that standards will fall and members of the public would no longer have confidence in the profession. The professional bodies’ organisations need to be supported and engaged with, however, although actual numbers of members may be rising, if this is expressed as a percentage of the total qualified population, it is sadly reducing. If this is a trend that continues it would be to the detriment of both professions.

Returning to the issue of behaviour, optical professionals will worry about their clinical errors, quite rightly, but do not understand that it is not just about what you do at work, it is also about how you behave at work and in your private life. This can be illustrated by a look at the GOC website with details of past hearings where the issue being considered is dishonesty or behaviour that brings the profession into disrepute. I suspect it is a surprise to some that these are likely to be dealt with more severely than clinical errors. To quote from a High Court decision; “dishonesty is a finding against a professional which is probably the most serious finding a panel can make”. Anything that reduces trust in the profession will be treated very seriously.

The message is clear. A profession has standing in society and a professional is able to command higher fees as a result of their protected status. However, if members of the public were to experience poor standards or the feeling that the professional monopoly was being abused, then that professional status would not last long. The professional bodies and our regulator do a good job in guiding us in the right direction, however, we all need to take personal responsibility to ensure we are doing the right things.