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Flinders student Thi Nguyen (R) with clinical placement supervisor Jacqui Lines
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There appears to be moderate support for extended clinical placement programs among optometrists, according to a survey of practitioners, and practice managers and owners.

Financial remuneration is one incentive that would encourage more optometric practices to take students on extended clinical placement, the survey found.

Other potential incentives include additional equipment, credit for continuing professional development, supervisor training, access to university library, e-journals and learning materials, and university affiliation.

The main perceived barriers to supervising students were lack of time, space, equipment and financial remuneration. Employees were more likely to support extended clinical placement than practice owners and managers, and the preferred duration was three to 10 weeks.

Results will be shared among Australia’s optometry schools to help create a robust clinical placement program for students and supervising clinicians.

Optometry Australia, the University of Melbourne and Deakin University conducted the survey in June and July 2014.

Exploring Practitioner Perspectives on Extended Clinical Placement Programs for Training Optometrists was funded by the Victorian Optometrists Training and Education Trust.

The survey canvassed optometrists’ perspectives in part to test the veracity of Optometry Australia’s view that at least one in 10 optometrists needs to take students on clinical placement to cater for the growing number requiring training every year.

Lead investigator is Dr Sharon Bentley, formerly senior lecturer in vision sciences at Deakin University and newly appointed director of clinical services at the Australian College of Optometry.

‘It is heartening to find that there are many “early adopters”, practitioners who are willing to embrace and contribute to improving optometric clinical training through new placement models,’ she said.

The report stated: ‘Pre-registration training of optometrists in Australia is changing. Until now, optometry students have predominantly gained clinical experience in university-based clinics. Universities are now looking to provide a more diverse range of clinical learning experiences and enhance student learning through extended clinical placement programs.’

Of 268 survey participants, 159 were employee or locum optometrists in clinical practice, while 109 were owners/partners/managers or administrators who were key representatives of a practice or organisation.

Sixty-five per cent of the non-key representatives supported extended clinical placement programs, and females were more likely to be supportive than males. Twenty-one per cent said they may be supportive and 14 per cent were not.

Key representatives were significantly less likely to be supportive, with only 34 per cent in favour, 30 per cent being possibly supportive and 36 per cent not supportive.

The main reasons key representatives were not supportive included concerns about burden on time and support staff, potential for reduced numbers of patients examined, too busy, patients not wanting to be examined by a student, potential for a decrease in revenue and lack of space.

Key representatives were supportive because they perceived advantages including the opportunity to mentor early career development, give back to the profession and possible future recruitment.

Limitations of the study included a low response rate and under-representation of some practice modalities.

Full details of the study will be submitted to Clinical and Experimental Optometry.

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