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Working with the assessor

Pre-reg optometrist, Nikki Sharma (pictured), speaks to senior pre-reg assessor for the College of Optometrists, John Corby, about the role of an assessor and how to succeed during the pre-reg period

30 Jun 2019 by Nikki Sharma

Having passed my Stage 2 assessment, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Even though I still have my Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) to sit, the pre-reg year has definitely been one of my hardest to date.

With a desire to demystify the role of the Scheme for Registration assessor, I have spoken with my Stage 1 assessor for a one-to-one interview about the role of the assessor, what they are looking for during an assessment and tips for success. One thing I have personally learnt during my pre-reg period has been that the assessor is the key to your success and it is vital to act on their feedback.

How would you describe the role of the assessor?

The role of the assessor is to assess competence against the General Optical Council’s elements of competence using the evidence provided by trainees and to provide feedback to inform the development of the trainee.

What are the most common misconceptions regarding the pre-reg year?

  1. That the OSCEs are the hardest bit
  2. That the assessor is there to get in your way
  3. That it is ok to learn what is required for the assessments and then forget it
  4. That the pre-reg year is about passing exams when it is actually about becoming an optometrist.

“Let your assessor know about any anxiety or nervousness – the assessor is there to help you give the best of yourself”

Senior pre-reg assessor for the College of Optometrists, John Corby

Why is there a Scheme for Registration?

There is a huge gulf between graduating and actually being ready to see real patients without supervision. At university, students are exposed to an enormous amount of theory, with very little practical experience. As everything is broken down and taught in silos, the student’s ability to use that knowledge holistically with patients is undeveloped.

It is also important to have an independent check of competence before entry to the register – universities have a vested interest in getting trainees qualified as better results mean more applicants and more money for the department. There would be a pressure to sign students off even if they were not competent.

What is your advice for pre-reg optometrists who are nervous about the assessment element of the Scheme of Registration?

  1. Prepare – know your records and consider the questions that you may be asked around them
  2. Get others to question you around your records
  3. Get others to observe you during your practicals
  4. Let your assessor know about any anxiety or nervousness – the assessor is there to help you give the best of yourself
  5. Remember that time pressures are often in your head – does it really matter if you aim for the September rather than the July OSCEs? It’s only a couple of extra months and it might give you more time to become better prepared and therefore be more relaxed for each assessment visit.

“Remember your relationship with your supervisor is key, but it is a two-way street. If you want them to help you, you need to turn up to work on time, without a hangover, in the appropriate uniform. Most importantly, act on the feedback they give”

Senior pre-reg assessor for the College of Optometrists, John Corby

What are the key things that you look for during an assessment?

Evidence of maintaining competence. This includes direct observation and record cards. It is no use knowing stuff or being able to do stuff for the assessment, if you don’t use your skills and knowledge appropriately every time you need to with your real patient.

I am also looking for understanding – there is no use in knowing that a disc notch is suggestive of glaucoma if you do not know what one looks like, for example.

Finally, I’m looking for the basics, such as focusing the eyepiece of your keratometer.

What are your three top tips for succeeding in the OSCEs?

  1. Don’t worry about it – 79% of trainees pass it first time and the important bit is getting Stage 1 and Stage 2 right. If you have done that, then the OSCEs should be a formality
  2. Read the instructions
  3. Think about the way you are communicating. 

What are your top tips for a student who is starting their pre-reg placement?

Before you start:

  • Get to know your supervisor
  • Get to know the practice: how will you get to work, where the bus stop is, who does what, what are the work rules etc
  • Work out and write down your eye exam routine based on the practice record card
  • Get your product knowledge up to scratch, particularly contact lenses
  • Read the handbook and start planning
  • Find a pre-reg buddy – someone who is living or working close by you who you can grab a coffee with to discuss your high and low points
  • Keep your skills – it’s a long time between finals and starting pre-reg, practice your direct ophthalmoscopy and retinoscopy.

Remember your relationship with your supervisor is key, but it is a two-way street. If you want them to help you, you need to turn up to work on time, without a hangover, in the appropriate uniform. Most importantly, act on the feedback they give.

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