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“What has felt like the longest pre-reg has finally come to a close”

The spring OSCEs marked the largest in the history of the Scheme for Registration. OT  spoke to some newly-qualified optometrists about their experiences

student animation
Getty/ Aleksei Naumov

The pre-reg period is already a time of challenge and growth for many trainee optometrists working towards qualification, but over the past year the pandemic has brought disruption and adjustments to the experience.

Despite the challenges, over 390 optometrists have qualified in the latest round of Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs), which marked the largest in the history of the College of Optometrists’ Scheme for Registration.

Over 17 days of OSCE examinations in March and April, 499 candidates took the adapted examination. The pass rate for the spring OSCEs was 79%, comparable to 69% in March 2020.

 Luke McRoy-Jones, AOP Councillor, policy committee member and student committee chair, commented: “I’d like to offer my warmest congratulations to all those who were successful in the recent OSCE, which were historic in terms of the number of candidates sitting. I’m sure the profession and all those involved in the education and training of optometrists will join these individuals in rejoicing in their achievement.”

“At the AOP, we engage regularly with our student and pre-registration members and we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the delivery of education and training,” McRoy-Jones continued.

Reflecting on the significant impact of the pandemic on the 2019 Scheme for Registration intake, he added: “For these trainees, the news of passing the high stakes OSCE examination will be a breath of fresh air and a remarkable moment, signifying the start of a long and exciting career as a qualified optometrist.”

McRoy-Jones continued: “I’m sure that all trainees involved with the recent OSCE sittings would like to thank all those involved with the examination process, including assessors, patients and the College for their hard work to ensure the examination could take place, in a safe manner, during uncertain times. And I’m also sure that trainees would like to extend their thanks to their supervisors and employers for their support during this period.”

For these trainees, the news of passing the high stakes OSCE examination will be a breath of fresh air and a remarkable moment

Luke McRoy-Jones, AOP Councillor, policy committee member and student committee chair

Describing what it was like to serve such a large OSCE intake, Alistair Shaw, head of assessment for the College of Optometrists, told OT: “Delivering the biggest OSCE in the history of the Scheme to 499 trainees, whilst observing social distancing and infection control measures, involved huge amounts of effort from examiners, assessors, supervisors and College staff.”

“We know that this has been a difficult time for those who have been moving through the Scheme and are grateful for their patience,” he said, adding: “For the 394 optometrists who have qualified from this OSCE, this a big milestone. It represents the final steps in a journey for trainees that has been made possible by the adaptations we have made to the Scheme, which allows all trainees to progress, whatever stage they are at.”

With a number of adaptations in place to ensure trainees can progress quickly and safely, including increased supervision flexibility and capacity, Shaw suggested: “Over 715 trainees (87% of graduates) have been able to enrol on the Scheme since September 2020.

The College recently outlined its support for an extension to the temporary changes made to the Optometry Handbook and Supervision policy last year.

The AOP also welcomed the proposed extension, noting: “Continuing uncertainty related to COVID-19 makes it too early to return to the pre-pandemic education requirements.” The association also set out a number of recommendations, in light of member feedback, about how the learning experience during the pandemic could be improved, and the impacts managed.


“I am happy I have reached the finish line”

Newly-qualified pre-reg optometrists, Daniel Chung and Toritse Eferakorho told OT what it was like to receive their results after the challenges of the past year.

Can you tell us how it felt to receive your results?

Daniel
Daniel Chung celebrates passing his OSCE
Daniel Chung (DC): When I received my results, I think I had the biggest sigh of my life. Seeing that I had passed was amazing and felt like the final journey all came to a close. The night before I couldn’t sleep at all, constantly waking up and checking the results page and after some celebratory calls and messages, I immediately went back to sleep for what felt like the first guilt-free nap since starting pre-reg.

Toritse Eferakorho (TE): I had a clinic on results day and told my parents that I was not going to check my results until after work. The outcome of the OSCE was weighing heavily on my mind. My hands were shaking during the first part of my clinic. I decided to browse the College website to find out about the pass rate and saw that it was 79%, so this gave me more courage to check my results. At the beginning of my lunch I proceeded to search for my results after much persuasion from my parents. Eventually, I reached the ‘Exam results’ page and saw ‘Pass.’ It felt surreal. I even forwarded a screenshot of the result to some people for confirmation. Once it was confirmed, I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief and was overwhelmed with joy.

Eventually, I reached the ‘Exam results’ page and saw ‘Pass.’ It felt surreal. I even forwarded a screenshot of the result to some people for confirmation

Toritse Eferakorho, recently-qualified optometrist

Could you give us a brief insight into what the pre-reg experience has been like for you over the past year and what it means to you to receive your results now?

DC: The pre-reg journey initially started off well, where knowledge from university was being put into everyday practise, and it was great to see all that hard work finally starting to pay off. Once COVID-19 hit, as for all fellow colleagues and students, it added a real spanner to the works. Having the Scheme suspended really lowered morale and all those goals of passing and progressing in the profession sadly came to a halt. At the start of the first lockdown I saw it as a great opportunity to revise previous material as well as attend different CET events to enhance my knowledge, though as the Scheme didn’t seem to be moving in any direction, motivation dwindled. Fortunately things gradually started to resume and what has felt like the longest pre-reg has finally come to a close.

Toritse
Toritse Eferakorho described a mixture of relief and joy on receiving her results
TE: My pre-reg journey started off in one practice, however, due to COVID-19 I was let go during the first lockdown. Fortunately, I was able to interview and was offered a place at another store shortly after. This has been an unusual pre-reg experience especially due to the pandemic, nevertheless I have grown from this experience. I believe the lessons I learned throughout my pre-reg experience will make me a better optometrist. For example, adapting to new COVID-related changes such as the inclusion of remote assessments took some adjustment, but I found it was more convenient. I am happy I have reached the finish line and can say with confidence that it was all worth it.

What are your plans for your next steps?
DC: Throughout COVID-19, the experience has really taught me not to set deadlines but to set goals and aspirations, and not to beat myself up for not meeting them when I want to. My initial plan is to become more confident as a newly-qualified optometrist and complete the Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre accreditation. Following this, I aim to complete the professional certification in medical retina and paediatrics, as well as independent prescribing. These are areas I’m very interested in and look forward to contributing to.

TE: Now that I have passed the OSCE, I have started applying for jobs far and wide, while trying to obtain my new GOC number, NHS Performer number, etc. I am both excited and anxious for the next stage of my career. I look forward to the day when signing off prescriptions myself will feel normal. Obtaining additional qualifications and teaching are both part of my future career aspiration.

 


Sharing a message of encouragement for those trainees who may not have received their desired result, McRoy-Jones shared: “For those trainees who unfortunately didn’t pass this time round, I wish you the best of luck in the upcoming June sitting. It’s important to keep up the faith and be proud of how far you’ve come during these difficult times.

“If you need any support, please reach out to the AOP Peer Support line, where calls are taken 24/7 and our trained volunteers can offer support.”

For more from Daniel about the pre-reg experience through COVID-19, take a look at OT’s pre-reg focus 2020 series