How did the University of Manchester become involved in the STEP programme and why is it important for undergraduate optometry students to be involved?
We were approached by Johnson & Johnson Vision two or three years ago when they let us know what this new scheme involved. We were interested and keen to play a role within it right away.
We see it as helpful for our students to get input and information from various sources during their optometry degree. Of course, most of the information they get comes from academic staff, but we also need them to be familiar with the practice environment and have an appreciation for industry. The STEP programme forms part of this.
I like that much of the information from the programme is similar to the topic areas that we cover at the university. It’s always good to hear this information from another source who might approach it from a different angle. It supplements the information we provide at university.
What support does STEP provide to students?
A cohort of students gets the opportunity to do a series of workshops during a day visit at the Johnson & Johnson Institute. The Institute delivers workshops on contact lens topics, such as contact lens material properties and soft toric contact lens fitting, as well as how to communicate with patients, so that students get additional information to supplement their university teaching.
In addition to this, all students get access to digital learning modules through the Johnson & Johnson Vision learning management system. This reinforces fundamental principles around contact lens practise to help support them as they start seeing patients within clinics. This digital learning also consists of three interactive virtual patients allowing them to work through fitting a patient with soft toric contact lenses and multifocal contact lenses from start to finish, as well as manage a patient attending for an aftercare who reports with concerns.
As part of the STEP programme, Johnson & Johnson Vision also provides the university with contact lenses that we can use in our teaching clinic. This is extremely helpful as it allows our students to have access to and work with a range of different contact lens brands early on in their career. This allows students to fit patients with a wide variety of contact lens types in the third-year clinic that we operate.
"We know that the students who go to the Johnson & Johnson Institute enjoy their experience. One thing that they do, which I think has been quite helpful, is mock objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs)"
What are your thoughts on the STEP educational grant and why is it important for students to be involved in research?
A research or academic career is a very legitimate career in optometry and the STEP educational grant is an opportunity for students to get hands-on research experience. It is work they can do in practice or at the university department, and promotes the importance of research and gives students enough of a taster so that hopefully some of them carry out further research, start a PhD, or become academics and leaders of the profession.
Johnson & Johnson Vision makes two educational grants available for research focused projects. I was pleased for one of our students, Emma Cooney, to win one of these in 2016 and supervised her as she conducted a project during her summer placement at a practice. We organised for her to do a research study based upon the importance of phoning a patient soon after being fitted with contact lenses for the first time. Emma looked at whether this would be a useful thing to do in improving overall success with contact lenses. We ran a randomised study that looked at what would happen if you didn’t proactively follow up with patients, which is normal practice, and assessed what impact a phone call had on overall success with contact lenses. The research suggested that people are more likely to be successful with contact lenses if you intervene in that way. This was an interesting outcome, which Emma presented at the 2017 BCLA meeting, and I think it was a really good experience for her overall.
I’m very keen that we promote research as a career and this sort of initiative gives students an idea of what to expect, which I hope will encourage those who come through this scheme to become the next generation of academics.
What has been the feedback received from students?
We know that the students who go to the Johnson & Johnson Institute enjoy their experience. One thing that they do, which I think has been quite helpful, is mock objective structured clinical examinations (OCSEs). We use OSCEs as part of our final year examinations and so they get a flavour of how that style of examination works.
What could be changed to develop the programme?
I think that the programme should continue to keep in touch with the universities and make sure that the content matches the curriculum. As new topics come along, such as myopia control, it will be important that the STEP programme continues to move in tandem with the university departments.