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Edition 5  l December 2017

Message from the Head of School

Professor Steven Dakin
Professor Steven Dakin

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to the last edition of our newsletter for 2017.

Lots of good news this year. The Bachelor of Optometry degree programme underwent successful OCANZ reaccreditation thanks to the efforts of many people within the school. This represents a particular achievement given the scale of curriculum reorganisation we are undergoing (in response to the school review!) and the challenges of managing our withdrawal from Tamaki.

Congratulations to newly minted PhD Dr Samuel Chiang and (to be conferred at the May 2018 graduation) our academic director, Dr Andrew Collins. Both performed excellent research projects adroitly supervised by Dr John Phillips. We have also welcomed new PhD students Soheil Mohammadpour Doustkouhi, Aleksandra Milczarek and Alyssa Lie, and more recently, Rebecca Findlay and Jayshree South. 

Welcome also to several new staff members including Associate Professor, Dr Sam Schwarzkopf, a visual neuroscientist working on psychophysics and brain imaging. Other new staff members this year include: Alexandra Thomas (Group Services Manager), Adina Giurgiu (Lab Manager), Jean Choi (professional teaching fellow), Dr Mabelle Yuling Lin (postdoctoral researcher), and Anahita Namjou (Group Services Administrator).

Sadly, we are bidding farewell to several highly valued members of staff including several exceptional professional teaching fellows: Adele Jeffries, Richard Johnson and Jonathan Payne. Alison Gray (Group Services Manager) is leaving us and has kindly been helping Alex Thomas transition into the GSM role. I am extremely grateful to Alison for her service as that essential bridge between us and the faculty. Finally, Dr Nicola Anstice, who will be leaving us at the end of the year to start a new optometry school and programme, in Canberra. As anyone who has worked with her will know, Nicola is a singularly hard-working and effective member of staff whether it be in terms of her constant innovation in teaching, highly productive research career or invaluable service (frequently acting as head of school in my absence). I speak for everyone in recognising Nicola’s enormous and ongoing contribution to the school and we wish her every success in her new enterprise.

Happier news: A/P Rob Jacobs was appointed as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to optometry and education. This is a richly well-deserved recognition of Rob’s lifetime of service to the University and the wider profession. Sincerest congratulations to Rob on behalf of everyone in the School.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone for their hard work in 2017 and wish you all a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.


Professor Steven Dakin

Head of School, School of Optometry and Vision Science

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences



Image of Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy and Assoc Prof Rob Jacobs
Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy and Assoc Prof Rob Jacobs

Associate Professor Rob Jacobs

Congratulations to A/P Rob Jacobs who was appointed as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his services to optometry and education. Rob has contributed significantly to New Zealand optometry and education for more than 30 years. He was involved in revisions to the curriculum in 1996 and since 2003 he has been a key player in designing a curriculum that has allowed optometrists to prescribe medicines. Rob has been heavily involved in research and has published more than 80 peer-reviewed articles, held more than 34 peer-reviewed conference proceedings and recently published a textbook on Ocular Prosthetics. He has provided advice on colour vision and visual ergonomics to many national bodies, including the New Zealand Police and the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.

Rob has served as an expert witness in District Courts and the Supreme Court on issues involving colour vision and motor vehicle driving. He has contributed to the training of optometrists and is the past Academic Director and Head of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Auckland, the only accredited training programme for optometrists in New Zealand. In 2002 Rob was made an honorary member of NZAO.


Image of From left: Drs Lisa Hamm, Lucy Goodman, Phil Turnbull with Safal Khanal & Soheil Doustkouhi
From left: Drs Lisa Hamm, Lucy Goodman, Phil Turnbull with Safal Khanal & Soheil Doustkouhi (Photo courtesy of NZ Optics magazine)

SoVS Inaugural Conference

The following article is courtesy of New Zealand Optics, September 2017, written by Dr Lucy Goodman*

*Dr Lucy Goodman is a research fellow in the school. She completed a PhD in biomedical imaging and is now conducting research to improve paediatric vision screening and to examine retinal function using electrophysiology.

SoVS: the future of vision treatment

Let’s look towards the future of vision treatment in New Zealand! That was the aim of the long-awaited inaugural School of Optometry and Vision Science (SoVS) Conference held at the end of July at the University of Auckland.

Emerging technologies

After a welcoming mihi and waiata, the meeting began with focus on imaging technology, Dr Ehsan Vaghefi introduced his research developing imaging biomarkers for age-related vision loss. He described how MRI can measure the properties of the lens and the vitreous, and can quantify blood perfusion in the retina, which could help personalise future treatment of cataract and AMD. From a clinical perspective, Dr Hannah Kersten described the OCT changes that can be observed in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Focus then shifted to virtual reality (VR), with Dr Philip Turnbull discussing his research on the safety of VR headsets. Surprisingly, VR seems to thicken the choroid, suggesting it may have therapeutic potential. Dr Jason Turuwhenua provided an update on his automated optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) detection software, which can detect eye movements from standard video recordings and automate visual acuity testing in young children. As we embark further into the technology era, clinicians are likely to use computerised measures from VR and OKN for managing optometric disorders. The future of vision testing looks bright!

Gaming for amblyopia

Treatments for amblyopia patients were sprinkled throughout the two days of discussions. Dr Lisa Hamm led the way describing a contrast balancing task that allows most children with deprivation amblyopia to achieve binocular vision. Extending this idea into the wider population, Dr Joanna Black and Tina Gao summarised the results of the international ‘Binocular treatment for amblyopia using video games’ (BRAVO) clinical trial. BRAVO examined whether binocular training (cleverly disguised as a game of Tetris) could improve visual acuity in children and adults with amblyopia. Although no improvement in visual acuity or binocularity was observed in this cohort, the study results highlight the importance of appropriate refractive correction for adult amblyopes. Dr Nicola Anstice ended the session by discussing the complex issue of managing a red eye infection in children while maintaining drug safety.

Myopia up close

Discussion of the myopia epidemic dominated the second day of lectures. Andrew Collins described his PhD work in chicks that showed the spectral distribution of the light source can influence myopia development. Safal Khanal then described his current PhD work using electrophysiology and OCT, proposing that atropine may modify the response to defocus differently in the central and peripheral retina. Dr John Phillips, meanwhile, summarised that optical defocus and atropine may act on different pathways to increase choroidal thickness.

The discussion then moved on to treatment options, with Joe Tanner providing an update on Coopervision’s MiSight Lens. Joe was pleased to report that three years into an international clinical trial, MiSight has shown a 1.25D reduction in myopia progression compared to Proclear 1-day. Alex Petty presented why ‘orthokeratology is OK’, but you should have a proper myopia control strategy in place.

Spotting fake science

SOVS Head, Professor Steven Dakin, held the audience captivated as he described his research interests in vision science and neuropsychology. Focusing on vision processing in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Steven gave a refreshing reminder on how to spot “fake science”. Although people with ASD are known for their attention to detail, this does not translate into higher visual acuity, as one initial study was too quick to conclude. Steven’s lab is working to develop better visual diagnostic tools for ASD using eye tracking and other motion processing tasks.

A clinical focus

Two rounds of workshops allowed for some light-exercise and thought-provoking discussion about clinical optometry practices. Dr Keith Pine provided a practical demonstration of prosthetic eye design, while Drs Nicola Anstice and Joanna Black led a hands-on workshop using the best methods to assess vision in young children.

A discussion of complex glaucoma patients, led by Drs Geraint Phillips and Hussain Patel, tackled the issues of when to start treatment and what to do when treatment fails. Meanwhile, participants of the ‘Ocular imaging and electrophysiology’ workshops experienced new technologies, including the latest in eye tracking, virtual reality, and electrophysiology.

Highlighting the future of vision research, several five-minute, quick-fire presentations were delivered from current optometry students Nick Lee, Muthana Noori, Aimee Aitken, Charisse Kuo, and Louisa Howse.

The conference wrapped up with a clinical session describing interesting cases in practice. Hyperopic and multifocal orthokeratology (Jagrut Lallu, Robert Ng), interesting causes of strabismus (Rebecca Findlay), uses for therapeutic contact lenses (Adele Jefferies), and incidental findings from the University Optometry Clinic and Greenlane Acute Eye Clinic (Dr Lily Chang, Jason Dhana) provided some clinical musings to wrap up the day’s discussions.


As the conference drew to a close, many looked around with nostalgia, grateful for the opportunity to extend their clinical knowledge in the place where their optometry education began. With a great mix of clinical skills and relevant vision research, this conference is definitely one to watch out for in future years. Congratulations to SOVS for making this inaugural conference so successful!

- New Zealand Optics, September 2017 



Ehsan Vaghefi
Dr Ehsan Vaghefi

International Conference

Dr Ehsan Vaghefi attended the ARVO-ASIA conference held in Brisbane in February, and the title of his talk was ‘Monitoring real-time physiological optics of the lens using laser ray tracing’.

"Laser ray tracing (LRT) is a system to monitor in real time how changes to the cellular physiology of organ cultured bovine lenses alters the gradient of refractive index (GRIN) and lens geometry and how changes to these key parameters impact the overall optical properties of the lens and bovine eye.  We have developed an automated LRT system has been developed that allows up to 3 lenses to be sequentially monitored in real time enabling the effects of perturbations to their cellular physiology to be linked to changes in their optical properties. Laser ray tracing serves as a powerful alternative to pervious MRI approaches to measure the optical properties of the lens due to its lower cost, improved environmental control and better temporal resolution."

Image of Aimee Aitkin, 3rd Prize (Optometry), Muthana Noori, 1st Prize (Optometry), William Cook. 2nd Prize (Ophthalmology)
From left: Aimee Aitkin, 3rd Prize (Optometry), Muthana Noori, 1st Prize (Optometry), William Cook. 2nd Prize (Ophthalmology)

NZ-NEC Symposium

A number of students received scholarships to undertake research projects in the school last summer. They all worked tremendously hard on their projects and gave four-minute summaries of their work at the NZ-NEC symposium held earlier this year. The topics were varied but were all uniformly relevant, and their presentations were extremely clear and well delivered.

Our optometry students ultimately won two of the three prizes on offer. Muthana Noori's project was titled ‘The effect of feedback on measures of visual acuity’, and Aimee Aitken's project was titled ‘Optical plasticity of the jumping spider eye’. 

CPD Seminar

SoVS hosted a CPD accredited event earlier this year, titled ‘An Optometrist's Guide to Ethical Clinical Practice and Cultural Competency Training’. This was attended by approximately 40 local Optometrists and feedback was positive and encouraging. The two hour event comprised of two presentations:

  • ‘An Optometrist's Guide to Ethical Clinical Practice’, by Professor Barbara Pierscionek, the author of ‘Law & Ethics for the Eye Care Professional’, possibly the most comprehensive reference for ethical eye care practice: Professor Pierscionek’s speech to Optometry focused on the ethics of Optometry practice, and the legal aspect of optometry as a profession. Such a presentation from a prominent figure of this field was one of the best opportunities for New Zealand optometrists to update themselves on the international standards of patient care, appropriate professional attitudes to patients and colleagues, and increasing awareness of the legal, ethical and commercial constraints within which optometry operates, including legislation relating to the use and supply of ophthalmic drugs.
  • ‘Cultural Competency Training within the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland’, by SoVS Senior Lecturer and Professional Liaison, Dr Nicola Anstice: This talk aimed to define factors that have resulted in the existence of health inequalities; reviewed the importance of cultural competency training for health professionals to ensure understanding of health inequities between Māori and non-Māori; explored methods the Faculty uses for under-graduate training in cultural competency to ensure graduates are able to provide quality care for all; and described current research occurring within the Faculty which is relevant to the needs of Māori and Pacific communities.




Image of SoVS 2016 graduates and academic staff
SoVS 2016 graduates and academic staff


The graduation celebration held at the Fale Pasifika in May was a great chance for our 2016 graduates to catch up and exchange stories about working as optometrists. It was also an occasion where staff, students and family could celebrate together before attending the formal ceremony held at the Aotea Centre.

There were four prizes awarded at the function held at the Fale Pasifika:

  • The Raymond Harry Hawkins Prize, for best project in OPTOM 570, was awarded to Melanie Lipinski.
  •  The New Zealand College of Optometrists (NZCO) prizes, for best project presentations in OPTOM 570, went to: Stephanie Wallen (1st), Jonny Young (2nd) and Ella Hawthorne (2nd).
  • The Anna Pritchard Prize for Optical Dispensing, for excellence in optical dispensing, was awarded to Soojin Lee.
  • The Dean’s Medal, for outstanding contribution to the academic development of the Faculty, was awarded to Oliver Munro.


Image of MASH students
MASH students


In July we hosted the Whakapiki Ake Year 12 MASH visit. Over two days, sixty Māori students visited our School and we used the preclinical teaching lab to demonstrate the opportunities in Optometry as a profession, specifically for Māori. We also discussed the effect of diabetes on vision, as this disease is much more prevalent in the Māori and Pacific Island population.

These workshops were run by Drs Ehsan Vaghefi, Joanna Black, Lily Chang, with PhD student, Alyssa Lie. Feedback from students indicated that optometry was the second most favourite School for our visitors, out of the Schools that make up the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

When asked about a key thing they learned about diabetes after their MDL day, one student said:

“I now have a better understanding of how the body works and how the pancreas regulates our glucose levels in our body. It also showed me how all the different medical professions work together to help diabetes. I never knew that Optometry had anything to do with diabetes”.






Image of Part II Orientation
Part II Orientation


At the start of the year, Part II Orientation was successful in preparing students to enter the Optometry programme. A series of short presentations from key staff members and past students was followed by a morning tea where students had a chance to interact and ask questions. After the presentations there was a tour of the pre-clinic, clinic, and the school areas, followed by a BBQ lunch hosted by NZOSS where students had the opportunity to mix socially and participate in various icebreaker activities. 









Image of Assoc Prof Sam Schwarzkopf
Assoc Prof Sam Schwarzkopf

Associate Professor Sam Schwarzkopf

We’re happy to have successfully appointed a new Associate Professor Sam Schwarzkopf who was a visitor to the School earlier this year. Sam, a neuro imaging visionary scientist from the UCL in London, will be returning to us in November. Sam and I had a new paper on schizophrenia published in the February issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Here’s a summary:

People with schizophrenia perceive the world differently, even when not experiencing delusions. This can have surprising consequences, e.g. patients may not experience some visual illusions (e.g. Dakin et alCurrent Biology, 2005). The new paper looks at the brain mechanisms leading to such differences.

We used functional MRI to measure the sensitivity of visual neurons, in patients and controls. Such cells receive both excitation and inhibition from other cells, but we find that inhibition is weaker in people with schizophrenia.

This is the first step to understanding why vision is different in schizophrenia and how such differences could be used as biomarkers for the condition. This in turn has the potential to both improve the diagnosis of schizophrenia and to support development of new therapies for it.  

Read the full paper here

Dr Ehsan Vaghefi

This is what has been happening in Dr Vaghefi's team:

  • Wlison Pan and Dr Vaghefi (with David Squirrell and Kevin Kauv) published the first ever ASL-MRI paper on perfusion measurements of retinal ischemia patients, in journal of Case Reports Ophthalmology.
  • Duncan Wu, Louisa Howse and Dr Vaghefi just published the first ever model of the human lens sutures, their growth and change with aging, and its overall effect on fluid dynamics of the lens. This paper was started with the work of Louisa during last summer. This is published in IOVS.
  • Peter Qiu, Bianca Davidson and Dr Vaghefi also just published the first paper from our laser ray tracing system. This is by far the most comprehensive paper that has been published in this field, and published in journal of Biomedical Optics Online.


Image of Dr Andrew Collins
Dr Andrew Collins

Dr Andrew Collins, Academic Director


Q: What is your primary area of interest?

My primary interest lies in the area of refractive development, particularly myopia (short-sightedness) and myopia control, and the prevalence at a population level. I completed my PhD this year and my thesis looked at the effect of environmental factors, such as light exposure, on the development of myopia. Results demonstrated that periodic exposure to high intensity light does influence the rate of myopia development and this ties in with studies carried out in China that reduced the onset of myopia in school children by simply increasing the lighting levels in the schools that took part in the study.

Other areas of interest include the link between visual perception, refractive error and differential visual adaption responses in individuals which may influence refractive error development. Also, as a motorcyclist, I’m interested in how well people see when driving, and the area of the safety of road users.   

Q: What interests you about teaching?

I teach across clinical optics and ocular disease and appreciate seeing the students’ understanding and knowledge grow as they progress through the programme, from pre-clinical studies to seeing patients in the clinic and interacting with members of the public, particularly when it involves managing eye diseases.  I appreciate that the relatively small class sizes in optometry allow for much more direct interaction with students on a day to day basis than in some larger programmes.

Q: What changes have you seen during your time at the school?

Since I began teaching over 20 years ago, I’ve seen optometry become a 7-day practice to fit with the extended work week and the increased flexibility of employment. There have been innovations in myopia control particularly in the area of the prescribing of contact lenses for myopia control in schoolchildren developed by Dr Nicola Anstice and John Phillips. Optometrists are at the forefront of both research and the clinical practice myopia control. For example, at the 2016 American Academy of Optometry conference, the largest Optometrists’ conference worldwide, two major symposia were held on the scientific basis and clinical practice of myopia control.  It is becoming more widely recognised that to minimise the future risk to eye health posed by high myopia, myopia control interventions should be commenced at a relatively young age. In general, there’s been the advice for school children to spend more time outdoors, and the use of therapeutic drugs for the treatment of myopia. Optometrists can now prescribe such therapeutic drugs as they are authorized prescribers, which is the same prescribing status as GP’s within the scope of eye health.

The increased role of the optometrist in the use of diagnostic and therapeutic drugs for the management and treatment of ocular health has resulted in the programme expanding to five years. Overall this should help to reduce the waiting lists for eye care in hospitals, such as with the Manukau Clinic. We have also seen changes in contact lens practice with the wider use of orthokeratology to correct and reduce the progression of myopia. Frames have become even more like fashion accessories.

Q: What path led you to here?

I came here accidentally! It all started after I won a prize in the final year of my BOptom where Allergen awarded prizes to one student of each of the (then) four Australasian Optometry programmes (three Australians and one local). I won the New Zealand prize which was for funding to attend an American conference in Boston where I also went sight-seeing. On my return back to Auckland, Annie, the administrative assistant at the school asked if I was interested in a six month teaching contract. After applying and being given the contract, I’ve been here ever since!

Q: What upcoming innovations are you looking forward to?

There's still a lot to be done in understanding the role of the environment in reducing the development of myopia in children. In Dr John Phillips’ myopia laboratory, Safal Khanal is investigating how the retina signals defocus (blur); Janice Yeoman is working on the pharmacology of myopia control; and Dr Phil Turnbull is using virtual reality to investigate eye co-ordination and growth.


Image of Jason Dhana
Jason Dhana

Jason Dhana, Clinical Supervisor


Q: What interests you about teaching?

My specialty/interest lies in ocular health, particularly glaucoma. Glaucoma has been one of the latest additions to the management of eye disease in the profession of Optometry. I teach an ocular health clinic once a week and most glaucoma suspects are booked into this clinic. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of glaucoma diagnosis. There are so many tests to perform and interpret, and it's working with the students extrapolating this information which I enjoy.

Q: What path led you to here?

I'd always been interested in returning to the School as a Clinical Supervisor. This stemmed from my experience as an undergraduate lab tutor. I have such a passion for optometry, so if a job combines talking about eyes with the satisfaction of teaching, it sounds like the perfect job to me. Since graduating I have worked in both private practice and within Ophthalmology at Greenlane Hospital, both of which I still continue. I started as a part-time PTF in 2014 and have gradually increased my hours here since then. 

Q: Are there any upcoming innovations in your field that you're working on, or looking forward to?

Last June I attended the European Glaucoma Congress in Prague, Czech Republic. A major theme within both the lecture and workshop components was MIGS (minimally invasive glaucoma surgery). These are essentially miniature stents and implants, usually inserted at the time of cataract surgery. This has gained popularity in NZ as well, with numerous and variable MIGS devices being implanted at Greenlane Hospital too. As part of my Masters I have conducted a large literature review comparing different devices, a few of which are still in clinical trials, but most of which have proven successful so far. The benefit of a MIGS device over traditional surgery such as a trabeculectomy, is that they are less invasive and therefore safer, and the reduction in intraocular pressure is almost as great. Considering that MIGS devices only seem to bring benefits to the challenging field of glaucoma surgery, there is a lot of promise, excitement and progress in this area.

Academic Visitors

Image of Barbara Pierscionek
Prof Barbara Pierscionek

Professor Barbara Pierscionek

Earlier this year we were visited by Professor Barbara Pierscionek, the Associate Dean (Research and Enterprise) at the Faculty of Science at Kingston University. Prof Pierscionek is a world-renowned expert in vision science and physiological optics and her scientific work has revealed many aspects of age-related changes in the ocular lens that lead to the onset of cataracts and can provide insights into presbyopia. Prof Pierscionek also works on anterior eye biomechanics psychophysics and computational modelling. She has management and legal qualifications and has taught on the application of ethics in vision research and the optometry practice in general. 

Prof Pierscionek completed her first degree in optometry and then obtained her PhD in protein chemistry and optics from the University of Melbourne, Australia. She subsequently obtained qualifications in MBA and law at the Universities of Bradford and Leeds Metropolitan respectively, in order to practice as a solicitor in England. The main area of her research is in the eye and vision, which has been supported by a variety of grants, including NHMRC, EPSRC, industry funding (Essilor International), charities (RNIB, Ulster Foundation, Fight for Sight), Royal Society, British Council, DEL(NI), CARA and the Institute of International Education and the EU. Prof Pierscionek currently leads two major European grants, worth more than 14,000,000 Euros. Also, she’s the author of ‘Law & Ethics for the Eye Care Professional’, a comprehensive reference for ethical eye care practice, plus more than 120 peer-review journal papers, including 18 major papers in the last two years.

During her visit, Prof Pierscionek delivered a keynote presentation at the New Zealand National Eye Centre (NZ-NEC), updating us on the state of cataracts research worldwide. The NZ-NEC seminars are held monthly, and are attended by staff of the Optometry and Ophthalmology departments, as well as scientists active in the area of vision science. She also visited our School’s clinical teaching laboratories, as well as Optometry’s teaching clinics at Grafton campus where staff benefited from her experience in teaching undergraduates and supervising postgraduate students. We also arranged several meetings between Prof Pierscionek and research staff and her knowledge in various aspects of vision research (design and implementation as well as ethics and execution) was of immense benefit. 

Alumni Successes

Image of Dr Nabin Paudel
Dr Nabin Paudel

Dr Nabin Paudel

Recent graduate Dr Nabin Paudel has been awarded a World Council of Optometry (WCO) Teaching Fellowship to teach paediatric optometry and visual eletrophysiology to the undergraduate optometry students of Nepal. Dr Paudel joined the B P Koirala Lions Centre for Ophthalmic Studies, Institute of Medicine, Nepal, as a Teaching Fellow in August 2016.

"The Institute of Medicine is the only institute in Nepal that provides Optometry education," Dr Paudel said. "I delivered a total of 18 lectures along with hands-on demonstration on assessment, diagnosis and management of common paediatric vision disorders, including principle and practices of visual electrophysiology (ERG and VEP), to 20 students in Nepal from August to December 2016."

Dr Paudel said he was amazed by the enthusiasm and interest of the students regarding attendance at his lectures, and said there was an overwhelming presence of students. Even though the course was targeted for third and fourth year students, there was a remarkable presence of students from all years.

In addition to delivering lectures to the students, Dr Paudel actively participated in final year students' project work proposal presentations. Feedback from the students demonstrated that the course was useful to them and they were hopeful it would be largely beneficial to their professional practice.

"I am currently supervising two final year students who showed interest in paediatrics research, said Dr Paudel. "One of the students is comparing different paediatric charts and the other is looking at flash VEP in premature infants without retinopathy of prematurity."

Notable achievements by Dr Paudel as a direct result of his WCO Fellowship, include:

  • Providing evidence based knowledge in the diagnosis and management of paediatric vision disorders such as refractive errors and amblyopia.
  • Providing hands-on training on the use of commonly applied paediatric vision tests, in particular, preferential looking test and Sweep VEP.
  • Providing suggestions on research proposals of final year project works and continuing supervision of students interested in paediatric vision research.



Image of Erna Takazawa
Erna Takazawa

Erna Takazawa


Optometrist, Erna Takazawa, was named the University of Auckland 2017 Young Alumna of the Year for her work developing optometry in Samoa and leading improvement of eye care in the Pacific.

She joined the University of Auckland Distinguished Alumni at the ‘Bright Lights’ panel discussion event and the awards dinner held on Friday (10 March).

“I feel very honoured to be selected as Young Alumna of the Year,” says Erna. “It came as an unexpected surprise and I am very grateful that I was chosen.”

When Erna graduated from the University of Auckland in 2012 with a Bachelor in Optometry, she returned to Samoa as the only optometrist and worked with a team of eye nurses looking after the country's eye problems. She relied on overseas visiting teams and the government overseas treatment schemes to New Zealand for specialist surgeries as at that time they had no ophthalmologist.

“I am still the only optometrist on the island, but at least we have an ophthalmologist now who can do common eye surgeries (cataracts and pytergium surgeries) and look after things while I am out of the country,” she said.

Earlier in the year she was in Fiji to teach the essential eye course for Pacific nurses specialising in eye care. Later she flew back to provide clinical supervision to ensure the students were well-equipped with proper eye skills before travelling back to their home countries to practice.

“My students come from all around the Pacific, including from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru, and Samoa,” says Erna.  “I've always believed in teaching and passing on knowledge, so I'm grateful that I have this opportunity to teach at Pacific Eye Institute in Fiji and help train up more eye professionals because there is a huge shortage in the Pacific.”

Erna said she would like to spend more time teaching but was needed at home in Samoa where she is still the only optometrist.

“My patients still contact me while I'm overseas, that they need to see me, so whenever I get back to Samoa I have a long list of patients booked,” she says. “I'm fully booked up for months ahead.”

“Now that we have an ophthalmologist, they can look after things while I am out of the country and that’s why I can now leave Samoa and pursue my passion for teaching eye care in Fiji for a few weeks at a time.”

In Samoa, Erna sees patients daily and helps to solve their visual needs.

“I also go on community outreaches to rural areas of Samoa and the other island Savaii, taking eye care (free glasses and medication) to the people who cannot come to the main hospital in town where my clinic is based,” she says.

She also works at the Samoa National Health Services as National Eye Health Coordinator, to coordinate visiting eye teams, liaise with overseas donors on Samoa’s needs, as well as attending meetings.

“In 2016 I attended the World Health Organization regional meeting in their Manila headquarters to talk about Samoa's status on eye care and how we can move forward,” she says. “I also attend meetings and conferences overseas several times a year.”

Last year, Erna was also selected by the Samoan government to be a Council member of Samoa's Allied Health Council for a three year term.

In 2015 she was named Samoa's first-ever Queen’s Young Leader Award winner and is the only winner from Samoa.

“I am on the Queen's Young Leaders' advisory panel and our role is to help short-list and select the next 60 award winners from different parts of the Commonwealth, so I fly to London for the selection meeting,” she says.

She is also a panellist on the Queen's Young Leaders Legacy panel that reviews grant proposals and gives out grants on projects that fit the values of the Queen's Young Leaders’ programme to make an impact. 

Important reminders Event as iCalendar

  • Graduation will be held on Friday, 24 November
  • We will be closing from Friday, 22 December 2017, reopening Wednesday, 3 January 2018 and we wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
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