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Optometrist Kate Gifford is a pioneer in her profession. Not only is she the youngest, and only the second woman, to become National President of the profession’s peak body, Optometry Australia, she is an internationally recognised leader in clinical management of myopia (short-sightedness) in children and young adults.
Her achievements were today recognised with the Young Alumnus of the Year Award at the 2017 QUT Outstanding Alumni Awards.
The Outstanding Alumni Awards, presented at a ceremony in Brisbane, recognise outstanding graduates of the university (and predecessor institutions), who have displayed exceptional professional, academic or research achievements and contributions to the community.
Ms Gifford operates independent practice Gerry & Johnson Optometrists in Brisbane, which she first joined in 2005 (when it was Patrick Gerry Optometrists), taking over in July 2007.
She gained her Bachelor of Applied Science (Optometry) from QUT in 2003 with First Class Honours and a University Medal, and then completed her Graduate Certificate of Ocular Therapeutics at the university in 2006.
Her two-year term as Optometry Australia National President concluded in December last year, and was one of the most challenging and rewarding of her professional life, she said. Among the challenges was leading the profession through significant changes to Medicare benefits and indexation.
“The Medicare changes were substantial and a mixed bag for the profession,” she said. “There was a huge amount of work required to provide support for optometrists through those changes.
“A key strength that I brought to the role of president was as someone who straddled that Generation X-Gen Y divide, as well as someone with an understanding of both the clinical and academic sides of the profession.”
Ms Gifford is now completing her PhD at QUT on the optics of contact lenses and eye coordination in children and young adults with myopia. She is also focused on peer and public education about myopia and its evidence-based management in young people.
Along with her optometrist husband, Dr Paul Gifford, she has established website MyopiaProfile.com for practitioners treating young myopic patients, sharing a clinical framework tool she developed, and MyKidsVision.org to help communicate the myopia message to the public.
She has also set up a Facebook group as an international platform for optometrists to discuss myopia science, clinical cases and management. It has grown to more than 1500 members from more than a dozen countries in a matter of months.
“There is a large amount of clinical interest and academic research in this area, yet frequently a disconnect between the two – I am passionate about translating research in practice,” she said.
“Rates of short-sightedness in children and young adults are burgeoning worldwide in the digital environment in which we live where children spent a lot of time on phones, tablets and computers, and not enough time outdoors.
“There are big challenges in educating the public, parents and children about the visual environment and risk factors for both developing myopia and its progression.”
Ms Gifford holds professional fellowships with the Cornea & Contact Lens Society of Australia, International Association of Contact Lens Educators, American Academy of Optometry and the British Contact Lens Association, which this year awarded her its inaugural President’s Award for Contact Lens Excellence.
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Kate Gifford named QUT Young Alumnus of the Year.