The number of optometrists currently on independent prescribing (IP) courses in the UK continues to rise. But what are the drivers behind this trend, are the optometrists with the qualification able to put it to good use, and what are the factors optometrists should consider before signing up?
Speaking to Dr Paramdeep Bilkhu, an IP qualified optometrist who now acts as an IP course leader at Aston University, it was the “challenge of doing something new both professionally and personally” that first attracted him to the course.
He recognised the benefit to patients of offering an enhanced service, while also supporting the business by creating an opportunity to develop patient loyalty.
For Suresh Munyal, AOP Awards Contact Lens Practitioner of the Year 2017, and a qualified IP optometrist, it was his time working part-time in hospital eye casualty units that got him thinking about IP.
He explained: “All my prescriptions had to be checked, verified and signed by an ophthalmologist.”
Noting how busy ophthalmologists are – “they do not want you hanging outside their door” – Mr Munyal opted for IP training as a direct solution to this challenge.
OT’s clinical editor, multimedia, Ceri Smith-Jaynes, is part-way through her IP course. She told OT that it was attending SECO’s spring conference in Atlanta last year that captured her imagination. “I was a bit jealous,” she confided: “Everyone over there seems to be a therapeutic optometrist. I thought: ‘I should be able to do that.’”
Recognising what she describes as “a shift toward optometrists as primary health care providers,” Ms Smith-Jaynes was clear that she “did not want to get left behind.”
The steps to achieving IP are “time consuming and challenging,” Mr Bilkhu shared with OT. Course requirements include both the theoretical and the practical side of prescribing. This point is reinforced by Ms Smith-Jaynes, who described the course as a “daunting prospect.”
She is, however quick to add that she is “really enjoying the experience. The information I am learning is sticking.”
Mr Munyal notes that, unlike the training on the undergraduate degree where the focus is on passing the exams, want-to-be IP optometrists are likely to have the additional pressures of a job, a family – “and in my case, grandchildren. You have got to fit it all in.”
Lingering questions for any potential IP optometrist include whether the practice will offer support, and, once qualified, will the practitioner be able to use the new skills, Ms Smith-Jaynes notes.
But some benefits for Ms Smith-Jaynes are emerging already. “I am on the first leg of the journey, but already I feel that I have ‘levelled-up.’ I am actually approaching optometry slightly differently, which is fascinating.”
For extended interviews with Dr Bilkhu, Mr Munyal and Ms Smith-Jaynes, watch the video below.