The amount of clinical experience students receive during their degree is insufficient, according to 60% of newly-qualified optometrists.
In response to new research, newly-qualified optometrists said the clinical experience received during their course was limited and often does not reflect real-life practice or typical patients.
The research has been published as part of the General Optical Council’s (GOC) Education Strategic Review.
Chair of the GOC, Gareth Hadley, explained that the new research reinforces findings from its concepts and principles public consultation, which revealed that stakeholders want to see more enhanced clinical experience for students.
“We cannot ignore the breadth of support for earlier clinical experience for students in order to improve patient care and safety. I echo my previous call to action urging education providers, employers and professional associations to come together to ensure this is realised,” Mr Hadley said.
The research also found that 58% of newly-qualified practitioners were either unsure or did not agree that their education had adequately equipped them to work in a hospital setting.
Respondents attributed this lack of confidence to insufficient experience, education and training in secondary care settings during studies.
Mr Hadley added: “High Street optometry is becoming more clinical which presents a real opportunity for optical practitioners to deliver new healthcare services locally and more quickly to patients, as well as to alleviate pressures from patient demand on hospital eye services.
“We know from our widespread engagement with the sector that registrants are keen to play a role in providing enhanced optical services on the High Street, but we also understand that optical practitioners may need additional training and support to be able to work across both primary care and hospital settings.
“We are keen to work alongside stakeholders across the optical sector to address these practical challenges and ensure that optical students are receiving the education and training necessary to prepare them for their future roles.”
In its response to the GOC’s call for evidence, the College of Optometrists stated that earlier structured experience in a clinical setting with exposure to patients with different conditions was desirable.
Director of education for the College of Optometrists, Jackie Martin, shared: “However, we recognise that this presents challenges and requires significant additional resources for universities to be able to deliver.”
She added that overall, there was broad support for the Scheme for Registration from newly qualified optometrists.
“A total of 89% of newly qualified practitioners surveyed felt prepared overall for professional practice when they started their first role,” Ms Martin said.
By comparison, 26% of dispensing opticians felt that the clinical experience was insufficient and most said they had applied learning through working while studying.
In response to the findings, the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) said it was encouraged by the level of satisfaction among dispensing opticians.
President of ABDO, Clive Marchant, said: “How do we increase the skills and confidence of all our students? Undoubtedly, we must move to a blended learning education programme for all dispensing opticians and optometrists. Secondly, the supervising registrant must be adequately trained in supervision and the expectations of the student and education provider.”