Developing clinical placements for the optometrists of the future
Martyn Jones, head of curriculum development at the College of Optometrists, explains the benefits of the upcoming CLiP placements, and tells OT what work is taking place to support universities and employers
06 December 2023
With just over a year to go until the first students embark on applying for CLiP placements, OT spoke to Martyn Jones, head of curriculum development at the College of Optometrists, about the benefits of this new approach to optometry education.
Traditionally, optometry students train for three or four years before graduating and beginning their pre-reg placement. This changes under the CLiP system. What is the earliest students will be being sent out on placement?It will be at a similar stage in their studies to now, in the third or fourth year of the degree. In order to organise a system in which all CLiP placements follow a defined schedule, with only two start dates per year, it was agreed that universities would organise their programmes on one of two models.
In the first model, the student begins their placement after the first semester of their third year (starting in placement January or February) and will return to study for the last half of their fourth year after completing their placement.
The other model is for the student to begin their placement in their fourth year (starting in placement July or August) and finish near the end of the degree, with just final assessments to complete.
As such, most students who have started Master’s programmes this year (2023) will begin their CLiP placement in either January or July 2026.
What do you see as the main benefits of incorporating clinical placements into the academic course?
One area where we have chosen to focus on maximising the benefit of integration is through the CLiP Portal, which enables all involved in the students’ progress to support development collaboratively. This brings university support systems into the pre-reg experience for the first time, with the College of Optometrists providing the economy of scale and UK-wide network of assessors to render this kind of collaboration economically viable.
CLiP has also been designed to enable the students’ practical experience to inform and benefit their academic learning, and vice versa. Students will have had clinical experience and may have been out on short placements prior to starting the extended CLiP placement, and while they are on a CLiP placement, their learning with the university will not be paused.
As such, the student should have ample opportunity to apply what they are learning in practice, and to bring their practical experience and discoveries back into the final stages of their academic learning and assessment.
To this end, we will:
- Work with universities to ensure that pre-requisite learning outcomes for CLiP are covered before students start the CLiP placement, ensuring that the student is assessed and signed off to a certain level before beginning the extended time in practice
- Work with students from the early stages of their degree to advise them on their professional formation, what types of experience to gain in advance of their placement, and how to record and present this to employers in their placement applications
- Make the logbook and reflective journal functions of the CLiP Portal available to students from an early stage in their degree, so that they can use this for recording their early experience and so the universities can use the same platform with them as they will be required to use on CLiP
- Establish one day a week which is set aside as a learning day in the arrangements for CLiP placements, so that the university can arrange work with students and the student has time to reflect on their experience and the links to what they are learning.
The student should have ample opportunity to apply what they are learning in practice, and to bring their practical experience and discoveries back into the final stages of their academic learning
What preparations have been made with universities who will be sending their students out on CLiP placements?
The CLiP Partnership Board, comprising programme leaders from each of our university partners, is the main decision-making and oversight body for this development and meets monthly.
- The overall shape of the CLiP offer and the models for when students will start and finish their placement
- The framework for which of the GOC learning outcomes, at which levels, will be covered during CLiP, and which will be covered on the main university programme
- Draft assessment information and outline handbook for CLiP
- A professional formation schedule, detailing when and how the College of Optometrists will start to engage with students to get them thinking about their professional experience and how to build a portfolio and profile for job applications
- A risk framework for evaluating the readiness of CLiP students to advance to more independent practice and to be assessed
- An assessment plan detailing the number and timing of assessment visits on CLiP, and what each will involve
- A development plan for the CLiP Portal, to enable all partners, including universities, to use our software platform to track student progress on CLiP.
In the context of the new ETR, what enhanced benefits will the CLiP placements bring to students, employers, and optometry as a whole?
We have viewed this as an opportunity to bring benefits to all involved, through enhanced partnership arrangements.
We think students will benefit from having an organised placement facilitation process, and from receiving advice on their professional formation from the College of Optometrists while they are studying their degree.
We will support students towards success in obtaining a placement, whereas the current system requires students to undertake the process without support. They should also be reassured that a quality assurance framework will be in place for the CLiP placements, and that they will have the opportunity to liaise with the College of Optometrists as well as their university about any concerns.
Employers will be better placed to organise their resources in the CLiP system, as it brings the predictability of knowing when students will be applying and how many students need to be placed at each round.
Having applications and offers managed through the CLiP Portal software platform will mean that offers need to be accepted or rejected within a short timeframe, and multiple offers cannot be ‘held’ indefinitely by students.
We see the professional formation aspects of the CLiP offer and the tools in the CLiP Portal to log and reflect on experience as a benefit to students, which they will be able to take into their ongoing careers. There will be the option of using similar tools as part of ongoing College of Optometrists membership and transition into education roles such as supervising, which we believe will be a benefit to the profession as a whole.
Employers will be better placed to organise their resources in the CLiP system, as it brings the predictability of knowing when students will be applying and how many students need to be placed at each round
Some optometry employers are already signed up to take students on during their CliP placements. What preparations has the College of Optometrists made with employers?
We have been seeking input from all our stakeholders throughout development. What we heard from a wide range of employer representatives in the early days has helped us to ensure that our service will maximise the number of high-quality placement opportunities for ETR students.
We are working with all the main multiple practice employers and with organisations representing independent practices. This is built into our governance structure for development and oversight of the project, through monthly meetings of our Employer Development Group.
We also meet with graduate recruitment teams to discuss progress and receive feedback on our plans, and discuss how CLiP placements might work with representatives of areas such as domiciliary and hospital optometry.
Our work with employers focuses on arrangements for the placement, including the contractual agreements and the guidance that will be available to employers about how the placement needs to be organised. This includes areas such as:
- Student working hours and resources required, such as consulting room access and equipment
- The contractual agreement with the student
- Arrangements for the learning day
- The role of the supervisor, requirements for this role and support provided
- How placement facilitation will work
- Dealing with common problems that may arise during a placement
- Quality assurance, shared responsibilities for the student, and reporting problems.
All of these have been carefully negotiated to meet the expectations of the ETR and the diverse university providers who have chosen to incorporate CLiP, whilst offering stability and support for employers through the transition process and beyond – to get the best outcomes for students, and eventually patients.
How will the value of supervisors be emphasised in the new placements?
The supervisory team’s role will be central in the CLiP placement, and we will be paying close attention to the upcoming Sector Partnership for Optical Knowledge guidance to shape the development of this area.
As it stands, we will:
- Introduce more flexible criteria for becoming a supervisor, and a greater range of roles and ways to be involved – allowing for early-career optometrists to become involved sooner and capitalising on the opportunities presented by input from across the multi-professional team
- Create new training materials, based on e-learning courses with ‘chunked’ content, allowing the user to complete the training in small parts over a period of time, or in one or two sittings
- Provide supervisors with a clear framework for signing off stages of student progress and assessing their suitability to work more independently as the placement progresses
- Improve supervisors’ access to information about student progress and communication with CLiP partners, such as the university and the assessors, by establishing relevant user roles on the CLiP Portal
- Establish enhanced ongoing support for supervisors through additional training modules and recognition of their experience
- Develop the CLiP Portal to enable supervisory teams to collaborate effectively on supporting student development, whilst assuring patient safety.
The first CLiP placements are due to start in the academic year 2025–2026. What work will the College of Optometrists be undertaking in the next two years to ensure the profession and universities are ready?
To highlight some key milestones in the development, in the next year we plan to promote CLiP placements and supervision, deliver the first professional formation and development sessions to students, develop and launch the placement facilitation element of the CLiP Portal, introduce revised supervisor training, develop the CLiP assessment plan, and start testing of assessment material.
The first placement application rounds will commence in early 2025 and in that year we will also focus on further development and testing of CLiP assessment, including assessor training, finalise all guidance and procedure documents relating to CLiP placements, complete development of and launch the supervisor and assessor element of the CLiP Portal, and provide updates and briefings to employers preparing to manage their first CLiP placement.