This article appeared in issue 110 of the Eighth Line Newsletter, and has been edited for easier viewing on the web. Some of the information in this article may be out of date. Refer to our current static website pages for correct information.

Many of you have likely heard or read about the ACAO Quality Assurance committee over the last couple of years but it has dawned on us that many of you might also be wondering; what the heck is “quality assurance” and why do we need a committee for it? Quality Assurance (QA) a program for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, service, or facility to ensure that standards of quality are being met (Webster’s Dictionary). Basically, it is any system built to monitor the effectiveness of a program. In our case, the QA committee is tasked with building a better system to monitor the effectiveness of our Continuing Competency Program (CCP).


In Alberta, all Regulated Health Professionals are required to participate in their regulator’s CCP as per the Health Professions Act, but it is up to the regulator to create an effective program. All opticianry regulators across Canada, except for Ontario, currently require registrants to complete a certain number of continuing education (con-ed) credits within a certain period of time. For example, the Alberta College and Association of Opticians (ACAO) requires all members complete either 20 or 35 credits within a three-year cycle.

In 2015, the ACAO formed the QA Committee to address the shortcomings of our current CCP. They have been working with other optician regulators across Canada to develop a new Continuing Competency Program (CCP) that better ensures competency through an evidence-based program.

By working with BC, MB, SK, NB, AND NS on this project, our QA committee benefits from hearing how each regulator currently handles the requirement of continuing education, how effective they feel it is now, and what elements a new CCP would need to have to demonstrate a marked improvement. Making this initiative a group effort also allows us to share costs and resources which helps relieve some of the pressure of building a new program.

Issues with Current CCP

We have heard from many of you that our current CCP has many shortcomings and you are looking to get more out of it. Some of the issues our QA committee identified early on include

  • Accessibility – some members can’t travel to con-ed opportunities
  • Quality – is the continuing education the ACAO offers what our members actually need or want?
  • Accountability – we don’t know if members are actually understanding new material and maintaining their competency
  • Complacency – some members take the “easiest” credits, only study areas of interest, or just attend seminars with the most credits in one place

Staff pressure – checking every single member for CE at the end of each cycle is an inefficient use of staff resources

What Now?

Continuing Competency is defined as the ongoing ability to meet complex demands by demonstrating the required knowledge, skill, judgement and attitude to practice safely and ethically in a designated role and setting. A competency is a “measurable human capability that is required for effective performance. A competency may be comprised of knowledge, a single skill or ability, a personal characteristic, or a cluster of two or more of these attributes. Competencies are building blocks of work performance” (Marrlli, 2005).

The new program will be based on the NACOR National Competencies for Canadian Opticians. Rather than completing a certain number of credits, you will select six NACOR competencies to work on over the three-year cycle. By addressing competencies that have been identified on a national scale as the basic level of knowledge an optician should have, you and the ACAO can be more confident that the CCP is actually helping opticians remain competent as they continue to serve the public.

Proposed New CCP Framework

The Quality Assurance committee continues to work diligently on the plans for this new program, but a general outline has been approved by your council that has afforded them the opportunity to layout this proposed framework.

1. Continuing Competency Assessment (CCA): Each member will complete an online self-assessment at the beginning of each three-year The CCA will help them understand their areas of strength and weakness based on the NACOR competencies. Individual CCA results will be entirely confidential (accessible only by the member themselves) but the ACAO will collect and analyze unidentifiable collective results to help us better direct continuing education to those topics most needed by our members.

2. Interpreting CCA Results: After completing their CCA online, members will be given a “scorecard” listing all of the competencies and identifying those areas where they displayed a need to By reflecting on these results each member can build a learning plan. Members will be encouraged to build a plan that addresses some the areas flagged as “need to address” as well as some competencies that are most relevant to their practice/patients.

3. CCP Three-Year Cycle: Over their three-year cycle, each member will need address 6 NACOR competencies. Continuing education seminars, online courses, lectures, will now be linked to NACOR competencies to help members find con-ed that will help them meet their goals. Members will also have more freedom to link completed con-ed to competencies they feel were covered by their endeavors and to submit unaccredited con-ed if they feel it is applicable. Don’t worry, we’ll explain this whole process in much more detail in the near future – for now, we just want you to know that the goal of this program is to put you in control of your con-ed and your competency.

4. Specialty Designations: We hope that this new CCP will create an opportunity for those members who meet expectations in all of the NACOR competencies to focus on an area of specialty if they choose to do In order for the ACAO to recognize specialty designations, we need to have set policies and procedures in place to identify who is eligible and what requirements a member would need to meet to earn and maintain their specialty designation.

Quality Assurance Committee Goals

Based on the research they have done, the ACAO QA committee feels confident that a new CCP rooted in the NACOR competencies will help the ACAO meet these CCP goals:

  • Engagement – shift focus from number of credits to improving competence and professionalism
  • Assistance – help members understand areas of weakness and develop a plan to improve their individual competence
  • Quality – work with con-ed providers to target areas of weakness among our members (cater seminars to the greatest needs of our members)
  • Accessibility – integrate con-ed into members’ online profile in a more in-depth way
  • Opportunity – create a framework for specialty designations
  • Accountability to Government – by developing a program that is competency and evidence- based, members and the ACAO will be able to prove that opticians are maintaining their competencies by participating in the CCP

Don’t panic – the proposed start date for the new CCP is July 1, 2020 so there is lots of time for you to let us know what you think or what you would like to see in the new program. Your Quality Assurance committee would also love to hear what tools and resources would help you best navigate a new continuing competency program and if there are any questions you have in general about continuing education, competencies or quality assurance!