“The sector could be set for huge changes”
AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, discusses whether the education of optometrists is keeping pace with the rapidly evolving professional landscape
I remember little of my four months as interim CEO of the General Optical Council (GOC) in 2018. But I still have a strong sense of the confusion I felt when I was being briefed by the team running the Education Strategic Review (ESR). It was clearly something that the organisation regarded as fiendishly important and deserving of the highest priority. Yet try as I might, I still could not grasp why it was happening and what it was meant to achieve.
And, frankly, I had other, more pressing GOC issues to worry about. So, I put my lack of understanding down to my intrinsic stupidity and thought nothing more of it. Coming back into the sector three years later and reviewing what all that effort has delivered, I find myself still in that place. For most students, it appears, the shape of their courses is likely to look much as it has in the past. Courses will be the same length, covering much the same ground, with dedicated placements towards the end of their studies, and the College of Optometrists still playing an active role in signing off on their readiness to go into practice. What, I ask myself, has all this been about?
Change is coming and we need to be ready to shape the future of the profession
Look a bit closer, and there have been tweaks here and modernisations there ¬– and updating and refreshing things which have been in place for many years is never a bad thing. It may be that the implications of the change of structure are yet to reveal themselves: just because it seems that the vast majority of universities offering optometry will continue to work with the College of Optometrists for the next few years, it does not mean that they will not decide to use the freedoms they have gained in the future. But was it really necessary to go through such an intensive work programme just to get to that result?
Perhaps it was. What concerns me most is not what the ESR did do, so much as what it did not. Given the threats to the sector from automation and online sales, and the opportunities presented by the desperate need of hospitals to free up capacity by outsourcing lower risk work like eye care to a highly skilled optometry workforce, the sector could be set for huge changes in the next few years. An ESR that is not grounded in a thorough examination of what future optometrists will do – and even how many optometrists will be needed – risks being a futile exercise. The ESR seems to take it as read that the optometry of the future is much the same as the optometry of the present. For me, the reality is plain: change is coming and we need to be ready to shape the future of the profession.