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Digging the digs

How universities are rethinking what students should get from their years of study and training

12 Sep 2019 by John White

The ubiquitous Picasso Blue Series poster. The Ikea rug to hide the inevitable dubious carpet stain. The rucksack bulging with last-minute High Street fashion purchases. The Breville toaster (along with the cheap white bread, cheddar and pickle) for late-night snacks. And not a single Apple digital device in sight.

I am not sure my list of essentials as a first year uni student stands up to much scrutiny.

I have a crystalline memory of the butterflies in my stomach as I arrived at my London university halls, parents in tow, to locate the room that would be my ‘home’ for the next 10 months, and to meet the strangers who would become old friends 20 years on.

I am in no doubt that the undergrad experience has come a long way since 1999. Standards of students digs for one thing seem to have improved (collective sigh).

The questions about what students learn, and how to transfer this knowledge, have, however, remained as relevant as ever.

In optometry, this thought has particular resonance as the General Optical Council pushes on with its Education Strategic Review. Crucially, the review includes the proposal to integrate the pre-reg year into students’ university degree. The implication for future students, universities and the profession as whole – financial and beyond – are being considered with care by the AOP, among others.

The proposals also consider the continuing education and training of qualified optometrists and dispensing opticians. Writing in OT’s upcoming October edition, the regulator’s head of standards and CET, Marcus Dye, is clear that the sector must react: “An ageing population is changing patient needs, and multi-disciplinary working and the use of technology are becoming more prevalent. It is vital that optometrists and dispensing opticians pursue ongoing training and professional development that enables them to meet the demands of the future.”

For universities such as the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI), which is developing a four-year undergraduate BSc honours degree programme, offering a fresh approach to training the professionals of the future is critical.

The university’s head of optometry, Alison MacPherson, explained to OT that UHI is working in conjunction with Deakin University in Australia to create a curriculum that is “very clinically based from the start and is centred around the problem-based learning approach to clinical cases. We want students to…become critical thinkers, be able to solve relevant clinical problems and to deal with patients in a holistic way.”

Hands-on experience features prominently in the planned course, with students receiving clinical skills training at the university in specifically designed workshops, featuring clinical placements from year one and an extended placement in their fourth year in community practice, which will be at least 12 weeks.

What memories from your first year at university remain fresh in your mind? And what do you think optometry degree courses need to focus on? Please get in touch and share your views with me via email.

Image credit: Pixabay/Vincent_Zhang

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