International Optician of the Year Award

Published on by Anaïs Lakrout - updated on

The International Opticians Association (IOA) will announce the International Optician of the Year Award winner during the SILMO Paris 2019. 

The optician is at the heart of the optical business. The majority of the turnover of an optical practice comes as a result of the expertise of the optician and their interaction with the client. The client’s perception of their visit is almost entirely based on their interaction with the optician and the great vision they receive with their new spectacles.

The IOA / Silmo International Optician of the Year Award recognises the importance of the optician in the optical business and their role in the choice of the optimum products for their clientele.

The International Opticians Association (IOA) is an international body dedicated to the enhancement and development of the profession worldwide. It is a strategic partner with Silmo in the development of the profession worldwide. As well as being able to demonstrate that they are a qualified dispensing optician in the country where they practice, the winner of this award will display the following attributes:

  • Professionalism – the client is at the heart of their business and receives excellent care.
  • Excellent communication skills – both personally and via social media.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit – with solid business acumen highlighted through the success of theirenterprise.
  • Innovation – within their business model / product offer / shop design Specialisation – with a reputation in a specific branch of optics
  • Creativity – both in the products they offer and the way they practice.
  • Engagement – with the profession, the community, charitable endeavours and industry.
  • Advocacy - championing the profession of dispensing.

Judging process: IOA members, country members and industry partners nominated opticians worldwide. These people were contacted and asked to fill in a dossier. The dossiers have been scrutinised by a panel made up of a number of industry experts. A shortlist of five people was established and the winner will be announced during the prestigious Silmo d’Or ceremony in Paris France.

The winner was announced on the 28 September 2019 at SILMO Paris. As well as the award, the winner will also win a trip for two to Silmo 2020 (travel includes economy air fare and hotel).

THE WINNER OF THE AWARD :

Andrew Keirl

THE 2019 FINALISTS :

Charlie Saccarelli

Optician Charlie Saccarelli ABOM is president of Chadwick Optical in the USA. He says, “While doctors examine the eye from the outside in, opticians have the unique opportunity to work with the patient on how they process the world from the inside out. I truly believe that vision is the most important and most used of our five senses -- with information relating to vision occupying well over half of our brain’s processing power. As an optician, I create the filter through which most of the patient’s world is processed.” 

Charlie first started working with lenses at just eight years old. “I was fascinated that these funny pieces of plastic could bend light in such a way that it would allow people to see clearly. I had the unique opportunity to learn the various complexities of what patients need from a very early age. That hands-on experience helped the young entrepreneur in me to build my vision for Chadwick Optical. I wanted to serve the anomalies. I wanted to serve a very unique group of patients that have heard ‘no’ too many times elsewhere.” 

Charlie took over Chadwick Optical in 2013 with the mission to create eyeglasses that change people’s lives. “Often times, it takes some innovation and design. My team and I have to dig a little deeper to figure out what is best for a particular patient. I have to look at the patient differently. I can’t just look at the prescription and the diagnosis and the charts. I have to ask what is it like to be the patient? What obstacles are they facing? How can I make their life better? What can I do to radically improve their quality of life? 

“If obsessively seeking answers to these questions is a disease, then innovation, creativity, communication skills, engagement, specialization and advocacy is the cure. If something doesn’t exist, my team and I figure out how to make it. I don’t stop searching because it’s never been made before or it’s not commercially available; it is my responsibility to create until I find the right solution.” 

Charlie and his team are adept at problem solving. He says, “Where my team and I don’t possess the technical ability, we find out who to ask and where to find it. We’ve gotten creative by utilizing the services of machine shops, welders and jewelers-- we even have a small in-house machine shop and 3D printing operation. We’ve used all of these tools to prototype and create solutions for our patients. Our passion for helping others keeps driving us to create products that are both accessible and practical.” 

While creating these solutions is of the utmost importance to Charlie, so is educating others in the eye care industry on when using them is appropriate., “In the States, opticians can be viewed as frame salespersons. We all know that it goes beyond that. I’ve recently started advocating, communicating and promoting the value of what opticians do to opticians, optometrists, ophthalmologists and other partners eye care at an international level.” 

Overall, Charlie says, “I seek to provide resources that take valuable information from the scientific journals and share them in a digestible format with those who can really use it. Speaking to people and enlightening them about our unique profession has become a passion of mine. I have spoken in Australia, Turkey, and all over the US and Canada on peripheral prisms, visual field loss, visual acuity, and the value of opticianary and will continue to do so. I believe that this full-circle approach to harnessing the power of lenses is crucial to changing patient’s lives.” 

Andrew Keirl 

Andrew Keirl is a dispensing optician from the UK. He started in optics in 1979 as a student Dispensing Optician with Dollond & Aitchison, following his interest in science and a desire to work with people. Talking about his training at City College in London he says, “I was fortunate to be taught by Mo Jalie, David Gully, David Pipe and Jo Underwood. I had no idea at the time how their teaching and enthusiasm would stay with me for years to come.” 

In 1984, Andrew was appointed Training Officer for the Dollond & Aitchision Group, based at its Birmingham headquarters. “I was already beginning to realise that the optical profession offered personal development and the opportunity to inspire and help other members of the profession,” He says. 

During this period Andrew lectured on many occasions to students taking examinations of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians in Singapore, Malaysia and Kenya. “I was amazed at the enthusiasm and dedication of these students who worked long hours often in difficult conditions with an ambition to be the best they could be in their chosen profession.” 

In 1989, Andrew was asked to join the then Anglia Higher Education College (now Anglia Ruskin University) in Cambridge to instigate and develop courses in Ophthalmic Dispensing by establishing a department within the Faculty of Applied Sciences. “The profession was offering me a great opportunity as I was about to start the creation of a brand-new department with a blank canvas, no agenda, no staff and no equipment. The professional body and the optical industry as a whole gave support to my ideas as I wanted to combine the essential academic aspects of optics with the retail, commercial and communication skills necessary for a young optician to be successful in practice.” 

The first cohort of students who followed the national day release programme achieved a 100 per cent pass rate in the ABDO Final Qualifying Examinations, an accolade that has not achieved before or since. As a result of Andrew’s enthusiasm and efforts the new department went from strength to strength and gained support from both the major optical employers in the UK and from the wider industry. 

Andrew then turned his attention to a full-time programme for student Dispensing Opticians. Full time courses were already being offered by three other optics colleges, so he had to be creative and innovative in providing an alternative that was attractive to both prospective students and employers. In 1995 he launched the very first Honours Degree programme for Dispensing Opticians, a BSc (Hons) in Optical Management. In essence, this was a course in optics and also in how to run a small business. An undergraduate programme in optometry was also launched and during his last four years at Anglia Ruskin University Andrew joined the Optometry programme as a part-time student while at the same time, retaining a full-time teaching and administrative role. 

“I believed that understanding, and being qualified in every aspect of optical practice, I could further promote the importance of opticians.” At the conclusion of the Professional Qualifying Examinations Andrew was awarded prizes for the highest mark in investigative techniques and the highest overall mark obtained for a Dispensing Optician.

Andrew now runs his own independent optical practice. He says, “After more than 40 years I am still passionate about high quality eyecare and eye wear and am proud to be an independent optician.” Andrew’s practice is multi-disciplinary and offers clinics for stable glaucoma patients, post-operative clinics for patients following cataract surgery and a minor eye conditions service. 

“Our passion is in providing high quality eye wear for our customers using the latest products and technologies to provide our customers with spectacles that fulfil their needs and meet their expectations. My practice has a particular interest in varifocal lenses and relishes the opportunity to help patients who have had problems adapting to varifocals in the past. We also specialise in occupational and vocational dispensing and lenses for specific hobbies and interests. We are particularly enthusiastic about indoor varifocals. In order to fully solve a patient’s problems, we have to on occasion think “outside of the box” by dispensing bifocal lenses with unusual segment shapes and sizes, up-curve bifocals, double segment bifocals, split bifocals, cemented bifocals and trifocals. In my opinion the key to success when problem solving is communication. Unless you fully understand that the needs and wants of the customer you cannot provide an appropriate solution.” 

Andrew believes that optics is a profession that is constantly evolving and that you never stop learning. “It inspired my passion in teaching which has become my specialism and unique selling point. I have been honoured to have been given many opportunities over the years to assist in the development of my colleagues by providing continuing education and professional development.”

Andrew has written over 50 CET/CPD articles for optical journals on a variety of subjects and has also contributed to the textbooks Supervision in Practice (DLL) and Paediatric Optometry (Butterworth-Heinemann). His text Clinical Optics and Refraction: A Guide for Optometrists, Dispensing Opticians and Contact Lens Opticians (Elsevier) has recently been translated into Mandarin. Andrew is currently working in a consultancy role with a major ophthalmic lens company to produce a new textbook for eye care practitioners in Europe. 

Andrew also acts as an Expert Witness for the General Optical Council and has provided medicolegal reports for the Medical Defence Union. This year Andrew was presented with Life Membership of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians, the highest honour awarded by the UK Professional Body for Dispensing Opticians. 

“Looking back, the optical profession has always been about people whether it’s my mentors, my students, my staff or my patients. I like to think that I have always gone that extra mile for people. For my students, I have always helped them through their challenges and found different ways to help people understand all aspects of our profession and have encouraged each student to be the best version of themselves. As I meet many of them now, it is fulfilling to see that they still remember my teaching with fondness. With my patients it can be as simple as being accosted with broken glasses when I’m out shopping or delivering, and fitting glasses to someone who is housebound and lonely. Even when off duty we represent our profession. Sometimes we forget the impact of modern spectacle lens design and technology. I will never forget a young female patient who had always had “milk bottle bottom” spectacles and couldn’t tolerate contact lenses, bursting into tears of joy when she saw her new spectacles. She went home to put on make-up for the first time. So whenever people may underestimate the scope and impact of our work, we need to be the greatest advocates for our profession and tell them just how life changing our work can be. I guess that is what the optical profession means to me.”

Steve Stenersen

Steve Stenersen began his career in the optical profession as a trainee optical mechanic in 1978, spending five years manufacturing lenses, glazing and repairing spectacles. He moved into retail and practical dispensing in Auckland in 1983 and qualified as a dispensing optician in 1989. 

“This has given me a broad range of skills which I apply to my day to day tasks as a Dispensing Optician. Whether it is an adjustment, facial measurements, problem solving, or soldering a spectacle frame I feel I am able to undertake these tasks with confidence and the necessary skills.” 

As part of Steve’s daily tasks he performs specialised OCT, retinal photography and visual field tests and has the expertise to interpret results and discuss with the Optometrist in making recommendations. 

Steve is engaged by the Optometrist and Dispensing Opticians Board of New Zealand (O&DO), to examine overseas opticians who wish to practice as dispensing opticians in NZ. He has compiled a one day practical and theoretical assessment course, where students come to Gisborne and he observes their skills in comparison to the NZ standards, making recommendations to the board at the completion of the exam. 

Giving his take on professionalism in optics, Steve says, “The underpinning philosophy of our practice is to ensure that the client is well looked after, and this involves first and foremost listening to what the client has to say. I would go as far to say that this is one of the most important components of my career – the ability to listen. It is easy to just assume a person’s requirements; however, we are all individuals. If a person has a problem, it is my job to solve that problem. This could involve spectacles, contact lenses, an optical aid, or engaging in discussion.” 

Steve often has clients popping in to discuss many and varied issues, not just regarding spectacles but also for example the outcomes of cataract surgery, or how to navigate low vision issues. “I really enjoy the relationships I have with my clients and seeing them regularly throughout their lives. My partner Sue and I also have a loyal staff – our optometrist has been with us since we established our practice over 25 years ago, and other staff members have been with us more than a decade. This speaks to not only the professional nature of our practice, but also the close rapport we enjoy with our employees. Due to our philosophy of care, we also enjoy very strong relationships with the public hospital system and local medical practices. This is important in a rural and isolated environment, where we often attend to out of hours or emergency issues when no one else is available.” 

Steve set up his practice in a small rural town in New Zealand in 1993. In the past 25 years he says it has gone from strength to strength. “We have buildt up our business and our reputation as providers of quality eye wear and eye care. Despite the changing face of optics in New Zealand over the last decade, we have maintained a loyal client base.” 

In 1995 Steve was involved in setting up OptiBlocks NZ, the teaching arm of ADONZ (Association for Dispensing Opticians New Zealand). Since the commencement of OptiBlocks NZ, Steve has held the positions of co-director and chairperson. “I have been passionately involved in establishing and maintaining high levels of education for the New Zealand industry through teaching, management and director responsibilities since 1989, which makes 30 years this year.” 

Steve’s area of specialisation is ensuring the provision and maintenance of high standards of optical training for dispensing opticians in New Zealand. 

“It is of utmost importance to me that we continue to provide high levels of professionalism and care in an ever changing industry, and this is evidenced by my work over the years being involved with teaching and also establishing and continuing the delivery of the Australian TAFE training course in New Zealand.” 

In 2001 Steve collaborated with his colleague and friend Dr David Wilson to produce the Practical Optical Workshop textbook which was utilised to train new dispensing opticians in New Zealand and Australia. 

Over the span of his career, Steve has been actively involved in the New Zealand optics community . He was the first student through the New Zealand written training course when it was established in the country New Zealand, and on completion of that, began teaching both the theory and practical aspects of the course. About a decade down the track, he was one of the instigators involved in securing the delivery of the Australian course in New Zealand, ensuring ongoing quality education for New Zealand students and industry. In the late 1990s this involvement with teaching spilled over into the role of first a committee member, then as President of the ADONZ and this involved navigating the association through some difficult times within the optics industry in NZ. Locally in Gisborne, Steve was involved with providing free screening at schools for 20 years., “I visited schools annually at the start of the school year to conduct visual screening on students. Following the optometrist appointment, I worked with the families to dispense glasses, often under the government funding programme.” 

Steve’s practice was involved in a pilot program which trialled eye testing in local Maraes for indigenous people. “Both the optometrist and I would pack up the necessary equipment and visit a new Marae once a month. This spanned over a number of years in which we visited all of the local Maraes. This venture allowed our practice to engage with individual who may have
otherwise missed out on optical services.”

He has also been involved in the visual screening at Gisborne’s public health camp STAND, which provides a ‘wrap around’ service for children and young people who are at risk of harm. He also volunteers within the community in Step to Move, for elderly persons in which the attendees receive information, through discussion-based seminars, regarding eye health, low vision, and safety navigating optical aids, and as a committee member and Chairperson at the Gisborne branch of the Blind Foundation NZ. 

Over his career Steve has been heavily involved in the promotion of education and has pushed for the continuation of quality education in New Zealand. He says, “During this time, I have seen optics being pushed towards commercialisation rather than what was once a profession considered part of the medical world. I have advocated against the simplification and automation of the skills required of a dispensing optician. I feel strong that as an industry, we need to continue to ensure that we are training high quality dispensing opticians so that New Zealand’s public can continue to receive quality care. This has been one of the key drivers for my involvement in education for the past 30 years.”

Thierry Caillat

Thierry Caillat started out in optics by gaining his BTS at the optical school in Morez in 1981. He later went on to do a masters in optometry in Orsay in 2001. In 1986, he opened his first shop and in 1993 opened another store in Lyon, his birth city. In 1998 he expanded and added another store in Francheville and he expanded the first store in 2001 by buying two adjacent premises. In 2008, pushed by his interest in visual health, he created his own brand Thierry Caillat Opticians with a simple philosophy, Excellence by Exigence’. 

In parallel, Thierry undertakes a number of other activities all with a link to optics and visual health. He worked in the department of Professor Maugery in Saint Etienne from 1996 to 2002 and for seven years in the service of Professor Burillon. He teaches optometry and low vision at the Faculty of Orsay in Paris and the ISO in Lyon. He is a regular speaker for a number of manufacturers including Topcon, Johnson & Johnson and Essilor, training opticians and interns in ophthalmology. 

He is very involved in the defence of the profession, he created the association Vision of the Future which has been active politically in Lyon. He aims to revalorise the image of the optician and reaffirm its importance in the landscape of visual health. 

Terry is the winner of the French Optician of the Year prize 2018, a prize which is symbolic of the recognition of the practise of the optical profession, that of the professional health optician, of which Thierry Caillat is typical. His business has consistently grown over the past ten years. His clients come to his business for his professionalism, for his competencies, for the provision of an extra-ordinary service and even unique when it comes to contact lenses.

His patients and clients are satisfied as they pay a fair price for his services and products through the price of the free market, not one controlled by insurance companies. Like the ophthalmologists, Thierry and his principal colleagues work on an appointment only basis which can be booked through the website of the store.

Thierry Caillat is the symbol of independence, depending on only himself, not on regulations orany health network, with little publicity and without tying himself to brand images. 

He is historically one of the pillars of the Club Optic Libre, which selects only opticians of reference
in a geographical region; professionals who share central values of professionalism, excellence, dynamism and sharing of knowledge. A buying group is always the reflection of the opticians who are members. If the Club Optic Libre is progressively becoming the first buying group for independent opticians, it is because of its power and its collective intelligence which mirrors the expression of the strength and intelligence of its opticians. To have Thierry in its midst is stimulating and pushes you to be excellent as he is not afraid of speaking out; he says what he thinks with conviction. This is probably the reason that he prefers to be independent without an established brand.

Thomas Truckenbrod

Thomas Truckenbrod is a Master Optician who went on to do optometry later in his career. He runs a progressive practice which has been in his family in Leipzig for 100 years. His practice not only serves the discerning public with quality products in terms of frames, lenses and contact lenses but also offers top class clinical care with state of the art machinery and bespoke services led by targeted marketing and social media campaigns.

Thomas has been a popular President of the influential German ZVA (Optician and Optometry Association) since 2007. In that time he has worked tirelessly to bring the work of opticians to the fore, ensuring it is a respected profession. He has guided the profession in Germany to face the many challenges of the age we live in including challenges from the internet and insurance companies.

In European matters he has been an important driving force with ABDO and Harro Lotz of the Club InterOptique in forming the OPTI G3 to discuss ways in which the optician profession would be protected, nurtured and improved in the future. Part of these discussions led to Thomas playing an integral part in persuading ECOO (The European Council of Optometry and Optics) to recognise the often forgotten second O, optician, and create a long overdue committee for optics.

Not only is a pioneer and great leader, Thomas does not forget where he came from and that prepares him better for affronting the future. He is an inspirational figure who even through the toughest negotiations and difficulties, always has a smile and a can-do attitude. It is always a pleasure to work with him and learn from him and his love for the profession is contagious.