So Pierre, could you explain what an orthoptist actually is and explain some of your key responsibities?
So generally as an orthoptist, we’re part of a multi-disciplinary team, the eye care team. So essentially you have an opthalmologist – who’s a medically trained doctor, you have an optometrist – who does contact lenses, glasses and eye examinations, so an orthoptist is sort of in-between, we work with doing a lot of diagnostics, but our core interest is in vision training, and looking at eye movements of people who have eye muscle disorders. It could be paediatrics or it could be someone who has had a stroke and has double vision.
Could you tell us more about what vision training actually involves?
Okay sure, so then say we just focus on just the orthoptics in a vision training (area), you can do vision training whether it’s with someone who has had a stroke and needs to be rehabilitated because they have double vision, or [when] you’ve got a young child who has learning difficulties and needs vision training to improve their reading skills, so it’s pretty much occupational and lifestyle-specific.
The very niche area that I’ve specialised in is looking at the role of vision in sports performance, and that could be a multitude of sports, but it does extend to armed forces – you know, vision is very important to pilots and military. So any occupation that requires high demand on their visual system, as we do have technology that can measure and train people to use their eyes more effectively.
Wow! What made youwant to get into this area? Is it something you always knew you were interested in?
Sure, I did a postgraduate masters looking at the eye movement patterns of table tennis players, and the results were so interesting. Being a sports fanatic I started to realise that vision is a very specialised area that we can help sporting teams with. So that journey started in 1995 and 20 years later I get to travel around the world talking about this area, and providing information and training programmes.
Can you explain more specifically your involvement with the Madrid soccer team?
Okay, I did have a meeting with them in Melbourne when they were here, and we looked at eye-hand coordination training for the goal keepers. I did give them a proposal of what we do. The proposal was based on what I’ve done with the Chelsea Football Club in the UK, in the Premier League. But unfortunately they didn’t get back to me (laughs). So look, it’s quite a daunting challenge when you work with elite teams, trying to convince them in scientific manner that this is important. What you find with these elite teams is that they tend to have a priority and Chelsea FC put the goal keeping component as an important priority in their training programme, for Real Madrid it was probably a bit further down the pedestal so it’s disappointing that they haven’t gone through with it, but over time they may change.
What’s your favourite part of your job? Do you find it rewarding?
Yes the rewarding part is actually getting athletes who say “I enjoy training on your technology,” “I love the programmes,” “I know vision is very important” and it’s giving them another 1 per cent to add to their sports performance. So when I see (in previous years) the Chelsea goal keeper Pertrchec saving some amazing goals, I say ‘oh wow I contributed to his success!’ I mean it is multi-disciplinary but I did my little bit. So its rewarding to see people performing at the highest level and getting results.
What's the most challenging part?
The biggest challenge is convincing [elite sporting teams] that vision is an important component...you can appreciate at that elite level they are bombarded with people who are trying to sell them things and ideas and programs , but I’ve got enough ticks on the board with other teams around the world to know that in time it will change.
So how often do you get to travel for work?
I’m based in Sydney and would travel at least 3-4 times a year. Last year I went to Mexico, Columbia and Argentina, last month I was in Austria with Red Bull and next month I am off to Barcelona.
Then to Ukraine, in Kiev, to meet with a boxing coach...so the sports area is such a huge area, if you can pick a really niche area and become really good at it, there are a lot of developing countries that want Australian technology.
What does it take to succeed in your profession?
You need confidence, you need to be passionate, you need to have knowledge and have a passion for sport. Also always do your research about the sport that you are going to be working with .
I think health care has so many opportunities, it’s a stable job, it’s a long-term job, you can travel the world with it, you don’t have to stay in Australia. You could work in different parts of the world, you could work with foundations like the Fred Hollows Foundation and do those noble causes and trips to Nepal, so I think health care is a very rewarding profession and a stable profession.