The Alberta College and Association of Opticians (ACAO) has been in talks with the National Association of Canadian Regulators (NACOR) to harmonize licensure for many years. You have heard me talk about this at AGMs and in my written correspondence to you over the years. We have also talked to NAIT and given them notice for what is coming. On September 9, 2019 a motion was made at Council to begin the steps necessary to enact unified licensure.
What is Unified licensure?
Currently, training in just eyeglasses dispensing qualifies a registrant for licensure. In the future, training will be required for both eyeglasses and contact lenses. We once referred to this as “dual licensure,” but have found that term too restrictive, as all schools in Canada are adding this to their basic curriculum and we are pursuing refracting and prescribing in our regulations.
This means that soon all new regulated members of the College will be authorized to perform all of the aforementioned restricted activities. Of course, despite any authorization to perform restricted activities, regulated members must limit themselves to those activities that they are competent to perform.
Why are we doing this?
The main considerations for this change are to provide clarity and access to the public and to ensure labour mobility for opticians across Canada. By ensuring all registrants of the ACAO are authorized to perform all of the restricted activities there should be less confusion among patients about who they need to see for each service related to their optical health needs. By increasing the number of registrants who are authorized to perform all of the restricted activities, patients will also have greater choice and access when seeking an eye health practitioner.
In order to reduce and eliminate barriers to labour mobility in Canada and to better align with the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and New West Partnership Trade Agreement, the ACAO has considered the position of other optician regulators across Canada. Current regulations in Ontario and Quebec require applicants for registration to have been trained and examined in both eyeglass and contact lens dispensing. The College of Opticians of British Columbia is submitting a proposal to require both as well. Over 70% of registered opticians work in Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia. By ensuring all Alberta opticians have the same credentials required by these other provinces, we can better support labour mobility.
Will I still be able to go to my accredited school of choice?
The proposed amendment to the application requirements will not affect the accredited schools and programs currently approved by the ACAO. There are currently eight post-secondary institutions in Canada with accredited optician training programs. Most institutions offer programs that include both eyeglass dispensing and contact lens dispensing training in a single program. Some programs separate eyeglass dispensing and/or contact lens dispensing training into stand-alone programs. Either model of education will still be acceptable; students enrolled in the stand-alone programs will need to complete both programs before applying to the ACAO for registration.
When does this take effect?
August 1, 2022. The Council has considered the change carefully and enough notice has been given for this enactment so that those entering the eyeglass program now will know what is to come by the time they graduate.
What if I just have an eyeglass license and am registered now. Will I have to go back to school?
No, you will not be required to go back to school but if you should wish to it would allow you to work to your full scope of practice.
Does this mean I will be able to fit contact lenses even though I have not taken the course to do so?
No, just as it is now you will only be able to perform the activities for which you have proven competence through training and examination.
What this means for opticians in Alberta is that there will be a bit of crossover time where not every optician will be able to fit contact lenses. However, as we move forward the numbers will normalize and eventually all opticians will have the same level of training.