I started my training to become an independent prescribing (IP) optometrist in September 2014 because I felt I was ready for the next step in my career. I had become comfortable in my day-to-day role and was looking for a challenge while also wanting to provide my patients with even better care.
In the beginningWhile the structure of each course may differ slightly, the course that I enrolled on featured two four-month long modules. The first was on ocular therapeutics and the second on prescribing for disorders of the eye. Both of these modules featured online learning material and lectures, followed by a multiple choice question (MCQ) examination. This was great as it gave me the opportunity to fit my studies around my work and home life. There were also case studies that I had to submit, as well as essays and a critique of a case record throughout the modules.
At the end of the two semesters, I was required to attend the university’s campus and complete a practical assessment that was designed to check clinical competencies in areas such as anterior eye and retinal assessment, assessment of intraocular pressures and visual field interpretation.
I would advise anyone who is considering enrolling on an IP course to at least touch base with eye hospitals in their local area to see if placements are available and to learn more about how the process works
In the hospitalAs part of the IP qualification, practitioners must also complete a placement in the hospital setting that they must secure for themselves. While I was allowed to find my hospital placement after enrolling on the course, today it is a requirement from universities that you have a placement confirmed before enrolling. At the time this was a source of anxiety for me as I found it very difficult to find a hospital placement and I was working to a tight schedule if I wanted to complete the final assessment within two years. I think that the requirement of having a hospital placement secured prior to enrolling is a much-improved process as they can be difficult to find.
I would advise anyone who is considering enrolling on an IP course to at least touch base with eye hospitals in their local area to see if placements are available and to learn more about how the process works. Securing a placement can be lengthy and so it is best to find one at the earliest opportunity.
It is important to inform your employer about the requirements of your hospital placement in a timely fashion. I was lucky as my employer was very accommodating and allowed me to have time off.
The clinical placement consists of 12 days in hospital that can be done in a block or as a day per week. Practitioners are required to complete a log book detailing all of the patients that they see. Personally, I found it best to complete this at the end of each day.
The placement gave me hands on experience assessing patients in eye casualty and learning practically how they are managed and treated. I learnt different assessment techniques, as well as how hospitals screen patients for different strains of bacteria and viruses. I sat in on corneal clinics and retinal clinics and was invited to see eye surgery taking place. I witnessed macula clinics where I enhanced my knowledge on optical coherence tomography interpretation and observed injections being administered. It also taught me about how the hospital would like me to refer patients to them, and what they would prefer me to treat and manage myself as an IP optometrist.
It is important to inform your employer about the requirements of your hospital placement in a timely fashion
The final hurdle
The final part of the qualification is the final examination.
Exam preparation for me meant that I reviewed all my notes from over the two semesters at university and also learnt the College of Optometrists’ Clinical Management Guidelines thoroughly. I still use these today when patients come in who need treatment as these are regularly updated.
Balancing work when studying for an additional qualification can mean that it is easy to put off distance learning until there is a deadline looming. Having experienced this situation, my advice is to set aside dedicated time throughout the course to complete all of the studying, which will help you maintain a work/life balance. I found setting out a study timetable beneficial to ensuring that I covered all of the necessary elements of the course.
I would definitely encourage other optometrists to complete IP training. Our role as optometrists is changing from refracting, diagnosing and referring to actually managing and treating conditions.
I have found that being IP qualified enables me to offer the best possible patient care while maintaining convenience for patients. As a business owner this leaves me with satisfied patients who are loyal and will come back to see me in the future.
- As told to Emily McCormick.