Teesside University to open optometry degree in September 2020

OT  speaks to optometrist and optometry course lead, Jennifer Howse, about the new undergraduate course offering

Teesside University
Teesside University will enrol its first cohort of optometry undergraduates in September 2020 when its new three-year BSc (Hons) optometry course starts.

The university received official approval for the establishment of the course from the General Optical Council (GOC) in November. It will enrol 12 students in its first year.

Course structure

The university has been working on the development of its three-year programme “for a number of years now,” optometrist and course lead, Dr Jennifer Howse told OT.

While the GOC approved the course to begin in January 2020, Dr Howse explained that the university has opted to enrol its first intake of students in September 2020 because “we wanted to give ourselves enough time to recruit high quality applicants.” 

The entry requirements for the programme have been set at an A and two Bs at A Level, of which two must include biology, chemistry, physics or maths. The university will also be taking applications from qualified dispensing opticians who wish to upskill and qualify as an optometrist.

The department currently consists of Dr Howse and her optometrist colleague Pat Friis. A third optometrist has been recruited and will start in January, and the team will expand “as the course grows.”

Dr Howse describes the structure of course as unique in that students will be required to complete placements in a variety of practice settings throughout the three-year programme.

“While we have our own facility at the university where students will be able to see patients and practise their clinical skills in their third year, they will also be going out into High Street practices to see how optometry works in real life from year one,” Dr Howse told OT.

“They will be doing this in all three years,” she emphasised.

In their first year, students will complete a placement in practice one day every other week. This will increase to one day a week in their second and third years, with a hospital placement included in their final year also.

“They will go on a placement for a semester in one practice and in the next semester they will go to another practice so they get to work in range of different settings – small practices, big practices, multiple practices and independent practices,”Dr Howse shared.

Developing a course that includes placements throughout its three years is pivotal, Dr Howse said, because “it’s important that the students get an idea of what optometry in practice is really like.”

“The university clinics are great, and we do have our own facility, but the patients who come to a university clinic are not necessarily the ones that students are going to see during the first week of their pre-reg. We are trying to make sure that our students go into the pre-reg ready,” she added.

A response to shortages

Dr Howse explained that the course has been developed as a direct response to a shortage of optometrists in the north east.

“There is no optometry course available locally so there has been a shortage of optometrists in Teesside and the north east for some time. We hope that by attracting students to study in the north east, they will be encouraged to stay here after graduation,” she said.