Pre-registration placements play a critical role in the profession. In recent years, there have been growing concerns over the distribution and supply of placements. Fewer independents have had the capacity to offer pre-registration placements. We want to encourage independent practices to provide placements because they offer benefits to both the practice and pre-registration optometrist.
There may be regional variations in the supply of pre-registration students and available placements, and there is fear amongst the profession of an over-supply of optometrists as a number of universities increase student intake. However, recent evidence from the College of Optometrists indicates a possible undersupply at least in some areas.1
The pre-registration process
Almost all optometry students are required to undertake a period of pre-registration training, apart from students who are taking the University of Manchester’s MOptom course, which is a registrable degree that offers in-practice experience. For the rest of optometry students, after graduation, a pre-registration period typically between 12-18 months gives a new graduate hands-on, structured and supervised experience in practice, including allocated time in community practice and some time in a hospital setting. The pre-registration period is itself administered by the College of Optometrists, who also run the qualifying Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCEs) at the end of the period.
Encouraging independent optical practices
Pre-registration placements are available in a number of different settings: hospital, independent and multiple. The vast majority of pre-registration placements are provided by the multiple-sector because multiples have the capacity to accommodate pre-registration placements and the sufficient natural staff turnover to require pre-registration students. Larger organisations are also able to provide consistent support packages and their training is considered to be high-quality.
We commend the multiple-sector for taking on that responsibility.2 However, we urge independent practices to continue work to create and expand their own pre-registration training to encourage students to consider independent practice as a career choice. We believe that more independent practices could be persuaded to take pre-registration placements if they were allowed to share the training responsibility with other practices.
The benefit for independents taking on pre-registration students is two-fold. It helps students experience a wide-range of modes of practice in order to make career choices from a position of greater knowledge. For the practice, the benefits are broad, too:
- Helps practice owners with succession planning
- Enables practices to develop specific training, ensuring tailored recruitment
- Being a ‘training practice’ is seen as a badge of quality to the public
- Allows the practice to stay abreast of educational and professional developments
- Many pre-registration supervisors find the task rewarding and enjoyable
Balancing supply and demand
Amongst the profession there is a fear of an over-supply of students and a limited number of pre-registration placement positions. However, so far there has been no evidence to suggest that there’s disparity between the overall numbers of places available and the numbers of graduates seeking places, and few students struggle to find a pre-registration placement.
An impression of a shortage may result from graduates seeking a placement close to home or their school of optometry – currently, approximately half of pre-registration optometrists continue to work at the practice they completed their pre-registration at and a further 20% transfer to a practice in the same business.1
There is also evidence to suggest that there are places available in rural and remote areas, to which graduates are unwilling to move. This reluctance to relocate is understandable and also applies to qualified practitioners, there is evidence to show undersupply in some areas of the country.1
What we can do
As we work to encourage more independent practices to introduce pre-registration placements, we welcome working with practices, optical committees, and the College of Optometrists to explore how this could be achieved. As an example, optical committees could assist through the provision of local peer review to support pre-registration optometrists. The AOP already offers a range of advice to support independent practices grow their business and hosts an Independent Practitioners Committee that includes representation from the Association of Independent Optometrists and Association of British Dispensing Opticians. We also need better data to inform workforce planning, and to promote equal workforce capacity in across the UK.
- Optical Confederation (2014) Optics at a glance
- College of Optometrists (2016) Optical Workforce Survey
Position statement published: April 2016
Read the rest of the AOP position statements.