The optometric education landscape has changed over the last ten years. Universities are now looking to the profession to provide student placements at non-university locations. This allows more practising optometrists to get involved in educating the next generation of optometrists and provides students with insight into their profession in a way that was not previously possible.
Anthea Cochrane, Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, says there is nothing more personally and professionally rewarding than teaching.
The opportunity to explore diverse workplaces, then reflect and discuss these experiences in a university setting, helps combine the best of both worlds
“Mentoring a student can develop an optometrist’s clinical supervision and leadership skills,” she said.
“Most optometrists are already competent educators – they already teach in their practice when they educate their patients, or when they explain their decision making to patients or colleagues. The challenge is that optometrists have no formal education in teaching, and giving feedback in a clinical environment can be quite complex.”
Ms Cochrane, who recently completed a Graduate Diploma in Clinical Teaching from the University of Melbourne and received the University’s 2018 David White Award in Teaching Excellence, said good clinical teachers are effective role models. Additionally, she highlights strong interpersonal skills, a good handle on theory, and the ability to identify individual differences among students.
“It is wrong however, to think that optometrists who teach need to know everything. Instead, good clinical teachers model how they find out information when they are not sure about what to do next.”
From the students’ perspective, Ms Cochrane says the benefits of spending time in practices are best described by Miller’s famous pyramid of competence.
“At the base of the pyramid is knowledge – the student ‘knows’ the facts. Superior competence is achieved when the student can use knowledge in a particular context or ‘knows how’ to use it. Better still are the students that are able to ‘show how’ they can apply their knowledge. The peak level is ‘does’ – which refers to actual performance in practice and indicates the student’s transition from student optometrist to practicing optometrist.
“Private optometric practices are a rich environment that can help students achieve this peak level,” she said.
All optometry schools in Australia and New Zealand now use private practice settings for at least some of their clinical placements. However, the length of placements differs, and some universities require students to be formally assessed while in practice. Additionally, some require optometrists to undergo training before they begin offering placements.
Ms Cochrane recommends that optometrists who are interested in providing placements approach a few universities to register their interest and discuss the type of placement that best suits their practice.
Although providing a placement can be daunting, especially in the first instance, she says a few simple steps will ease the way for both the practice and the student.
“Once a student has been allocated to a practice, they will normally contact you a week or two before their placement to finalise arrangements. At this time, encourage the student to send a CV so you have some background information, and clarify arrival times and expectations in regard to dress and equipment to bring.”
Additionally, she said, when the placement commences:
“Ensure the student is introduced to all staff in the practice. Allow them to spend some time with front of house staff and to follow patients through their patient journey in the practice. This will give them an understanding of how the practice and patient flow works.
“Find out where the student is at in their training. While you might gain this information in some form from the university, it is worth asking the student themselves – the number of patients they have seen and observed, and what they have learnt so far in their didactic training, will give you an idea of how you can help them reach the next level of their educational development.
“It is also good to discuss your expectations of how their time will be spent with you, right from the start. If the opportunities to see patients one on one will be limited, let them know. While active observation can be a valuable learning experience, let them know that it may not be possible during the busiest times, and advise them of whether you are happy for questions to be asked during consultations, or whether you prefer questions after the examination. Students value being able to ask questions, however until you are confident about the questions they’re likely to ask, it may be best for them to hold back until after consultations.”
Many educationalists talk about the advantages of the old apprenticeship model of work, and clinical placements are similar.
“The opportunity to explore diverse workplaces, then reflect and discuss these experiences in a university setting, helps combine the best of both worlds and prepares the next generation of optometrists for practice,” said Ms Cochrane. “This also gives students the opportunity to see how the optometrist’s role fits into the workplace, and to experience social practices that occur around work. It’s a valuable gift that optometrists today can offer tomorrow’s practitioners.”
Miller GE The assessment of Clinical skills/Competence/ Performance Academic Medicine. 65(9):S63–7, SEP 1990