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Orthoptics Students Lead Community

The Discipline of Orthoptics at La Trobe University has recently implemented a student-led community paediatric vision screening initiative as part of the work-integrated learning program. This placement is delivered in second year, when students are learning about ocular motility and vision related disorders, and aims to consolidate clinical skills being studied and practised in class within a real world setting while also providing an invaluable community service.

Orthoptic student, Lauren Vernon, assessing a child as part of the student led vision screening program.

Generally, orthoptic placements involve placing one or more students in a tertiary eye care setting where patients with a variety of ocular conditions present. Although this model is essential to student learning, community-based practice placements provide an opportunity to screen a generally healthy population and facilitate the transition to assessing and managing individuals with complex eye care needs.

Head of Discipline, Dr Connie Koklanis, said the initiative “enables students to deepen their knowledge, strengthen their skills and build self-efficacy whilst also providing students with an appreciation of community service and an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of their role within the broader health context”.

The La Trobe University vision screening program offers free vision screening to local primary schools and incorporates a comprehensive vision and ocular motility examination. Students on placement work in teams and are supervised by an experienced orthoptist. When on site, they take charge of the management and delivery of the service and screen each participating child using a specific protocol with the flexibility to undertake additional assessments under supervision, as required.

Feedback of the initiative has been extremely positive with the program meeting both student learning outcomes and unmet health care needs. Monika Szymicki, a student on placement said, “The experience helped us consolidate a variety of strabismic concepts, enhance our clinical skills and deepen our understanding. In order to make an informed and appropriate recommendation for each child, I needed to ensure I understood what I was observing and effectively communicate this to my partner and clinical educator – encouraging collaborative work. I now feel more confident in my abilities to assess a child’s vision and implement my clinical skills outside of a classroom setting, and I can take comfort in the fact that I will conclude each additional placement with valuable information and assurance that I will one day be sufficiently prepared to practice in the workforce.”

PANDEMIC DRIVES NEED

Good vision is vital to a child’s education, physical and social development, and vision screening is particularly useful in detecting amblyopia which affects about one in every 50 Australian children.

The implementation of the service was particularly timely as the pandemic has led to a reduction in paediatric vision screening with some children at risk of having an undiagnosed vision or motility disorder that could affect learning and academic achievement. Indeed, 21% of children screened as part of this community placement program were referred for a specialist review due to either unequal or reduced vision, a colour vision deficiency and/or a motility disorder. Julie Dunn, Assistant Principal of Bundoora Primary School said “A few students at our school were identified as having issues with their vision, which had gone undetected until now by teachers and parents. These parents, in particular, were very grateful for the chance to have their child’s vision tested. This cohort of students did not get to have their School Nurse reviews last year due to COVID lockdowns, so for some this was a chance to catch up on health issues.” Julie Dunn further commented on the positive experience adding “The La Trobe students were all very professional in their approach to visiting our school and our year one students were made to feel comfortable throughout the program and came away smiling and happy.”

The collaborative university-community partnership will be further expanded next year to include kindergartens, and aims to explore the possibility of integrating an interdisciplinary screening initiative with other La Trobe University allied health disciplines.

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