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Flinders University final-year optometry student Luke Higgins

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At least one in every 10 optometrists needs to take students on clinical placement to cater for the growing number of optometry students requiring training every year, Optometry Australia estimates.

Optometry Australia (formerly OAA) is asking practitioners about their willingness to be involved in extended clinical placement programs for training optometry students.

It emailed to all members on 16 June an electronic survey canvassing practitioners’ perspectives on participating in these programs. The survey will remain open until 4 July.

Optometry Australia national policy manager Skye Cappuccio said these extended placements were longer than was common now and were likely to be a key model for providing clinical experiences to students during training in the future.

The survey, undertaken by Optometry Australia in conjunction with the University of Melbourne and Deakin University, was funded by a grant from the Victorian Optometrists Training and Education (VOTE) Trust.

Lead investigator is Deakin University senior lecturer in vision sciences Dr Sharon Bentley and co-investigators are Ms Cappuccio, Deakin’s director of optometric clinical studies Dr Craig Woods and clinic director at the University of Melbourne EyeCare Associate Professor Daryl Guest.

Dr Bentley said the percentage of optometrists currently involved in clinical placement programs, and whether there was a shortfall of optometrists who took students, were unknown.

She said it could be a problem with more students requiring placement now than ever before and more schools likely to provide training this way so universities offering incentives to practitioners to host students might have to be considered in future.

Extended clinical placement programs involve students providing care to patients in optometry practices under the supervision of optometrists for a continuing period.

‘This typically ranges between four to 26 weeks, at least four days per week and usually toward the end of their pre-registration training,’ Dr Bentley said. ‘Previously, I think schools have had students undertake placements for much shorter periods, ranging from one day here or there to a few weeks.

‘Until now, optometry students have predominantly learned clinical skills in university-based clinics. However, the range of patients attending such clinics tends to be limited. Universities are now looking to provide a more diverse range of clinical learning experiences and enhance student learning through extended clinical placement programs.’

The application for the grant stated that pre-registration training of optometrists was changing.

It said extended clinical placement programs would have a significant impact on the profession, with several hundred optometry students requiring placement with practitioners nationally every year.

‘We estimate that placement programs need to involve at least 10 per cent of the profession,’ investigators said in the grant application.

‘The aim of this project is to conduct a national scoping survey to ascertain the perspectives of practitioners on participating in extended clinical placement programs.

‘Survey questions encompass willingness to be involved in hosting and supervising students, prior teaching experience, preparedness to undertake an accreditation process and short supervisor training course, anticipated benefits and pitfalls, anticipated support needs, space and equipment needs, cost issues, time issues, and employment and succession plans.’

The investigators said consultation with and understanding perspectives of practitioners were essential in developing placement initiatives that were viable, effective and sustainable for both practitioners and students.

‘Determining what is needed for placements to be successful from the practitioner’s perspective will provide part of the evidence required for our profession to seek funding for clinical training from government, as is the case in medicine and nursing,’ they said.

‘The far-reaching benefit of this project is that it will inform new ways of training and maintaining a competent optometry workforce that continues to provide quality eye-care services to patients.’

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