An evolving landscape

An overhaul of optometric education and pressures within the optical profession were under the spotlight at the latest AOP Council meeting

Council meeting

Giving optometrists the right education and training to equip them for the future was a key topic at the AOP Council meeting (2 March).

Councillors offered feedback on a draft AOP response to the General Optical Council’s (GOC) call for evidence on its education strategic review.

Key threads in the draft response were a call for the GOC to consider its role in education, combined courses for optical professionals, and the likely expansion of the role of optometrists, with the possibility of delegating some processes, such as refraction, to other professionals.

Member views expressed through the AOP’s online community forums informed the Council discussion on the review.

The future of education

While many Councillors saw the benefits of delegating refraction, there was some hesitation around giving this responsibility to other optical professionals considering its standing as a core optometric skill.

Regarding the education and training of optometrists, some Councillors expressed concern that students were leaving university with limited clinical skills.

One Councillor raised the point that her most valuable learning was done during her pre-registration year and in practice, rather than at university.

However, another Councillor expressed the view that it was difficult to refine a student’s clinical skills through a university education alone.

“You can’t ask a university institution to suddenly turn a student into a clinician,” she emphasised.

There was also discussion of how changes in technology should be accounted for within optometric education.

The view was expressed that the focus should be on providing a solid foundation.

“We’ll never know what will happen in 20-years time. What we need is a good degree.”

AOP clinical adviser, Trevor Warburton, summarised some of the points that were made by the Councillors on the AOP’s feedback.

The message for the GOC was that the optometry qualification needed to provide a better foundation in clinical skills, he said.

Councillors thought it would be sensible if some elements of optical education were run jointly, Mr Warburton emphasised.

Councillors thought the concerns of dispensing opticians should also be taken into account in providing feedback on the education strategic review, as they were part of the AOP’s membership, Mr Warburton highlighted.

Following discussion of the review, Councillors divided into four groups to evaluate potential areas of improvement for the Council and the AOP.

Topics discussed as part of the workshop included reflecting, and engaging with, a diverse membership, dealing with geographic challenges and communicating AOP views to a wider audience.

Health and wellbeing survey

Dr Hannah Bartlett, from Aston University, presented the findings of the AOP’s member health and wellbeing survey to Councillors.

She detailed the process that was undertaken to gather the survey results, and some of the key findings from the research.

Sources of stress among practitioners revealed within the survey included bullying and the pressure of commercial targets. Some practitioners had changed their hours of work as a result of the pressure they were under, Dr Bartlett highlighted.

For employers, sources of pressure identified were managing staff performance and recruiting new staff.

AOP policy director, Kathy Jones, emphasised that further work would be undertaken using the survey results.

“Even though this is a lot of information, in some ways this is just a taste of what it can give us in the longer term,” Ms Jones highlighted.

Mr Warburton provided councillors with an update on policy work at the AOP. Topics discussed included medicines access regulations, the Opticians Act, the possibility of creating an AOP position paper on blue light and changes to the government’s regulation of health professionals.

The next meeting of the Council will be held on 7 June, following the AOP’s 6 June annual general meeting.