The University of Portsmouth has received provisional approval from the General Optical Council for a new four-year Masters in Optometry programme (MOptom).
The new course, which now is the 11th optometry course to be offered in the UK, will enroll up to 16 students per year from September this year, with the first cohort graduating in 2020.
It has been designed in collaboration with the College of Optometrists and will allow students to complete the pre-reg year within their university degree.
Commenting of its involvement, director of education at the College of Optometrists, Jackie Martin, said: “We are pleased to be able to provide the Scheme for Registration as part of the University of Portsmouth’s new Masters of Optometry course, ensuring that these students meet the same high standards as graduates from all other courses.”
While the first two years of the programme are "very similar to traditional optometry courses," a university spokesperson explained to OT that students will then undertake a local placement during their third year where they will complete the pre-registration period.
Students will return to university in the fourth year to undertake a research project and further training on business skills and advanced clinical techniques, the university confirmed.
Explaining the benefits of the establishment of a new optometry course in the South of England, a spokesperson for the university told OT: "Over the last few years there has been an increase in students studying optometry, however this has not been evenly distributed throughout the country. The south of England has a significant shortage of eye care practitioners, which negatively impacts upon the long-term eye care provision of patients in this region.
"The development of a Masters of Optometry programme fits within the university’s Active Ageing agenda and will serve to support eye care provision in the south. We will enable a supply of a new generation of eye care providers to the region."
Speaking to OT about the establishment of the new course, the AOP's policy director, Kathy Jones, said: "Our interest is in ensuring that students have rich and valuable learning experiences. We want to see new and existing courses assist in the development of the profession.
"Our position paper on the development of MOptom courses recognises that they are attractive to students because the clinical placements are arranged as part of the package. However, we urge that students are given the opportunity to experience a range of modes of practice – corporate, independent and hospital practice – to help them decide where they want to start their careers.
"We also believe that universities should prepare students for the way the profession is changing, with the development of MECS and other community schemes, as well as independent prescribing. Any project that helps to increase the numbers of optometrists with these appropriate qualifications is welcome."
Ms Jones added: "We would be concerned if the expansion of optometry places leads to oversupply, poorer student experiences or lower wages. However, the evidence from the Optical Workforce Survey, undertaken by the College of Optometrists with the AOP and others in the sector, showed a demand for optometrists in some parts of the country."
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