An employer perspective on optometry’s new education and training requirements
Satvinder Soomal, head of university engagement at Specsavers, tells OT how the multiple is preparing practices for a new kind of student placement
05 January 2024
Satvinder Soomal, head of university engagement at Specsavers, took on his new role in 2023 with a clear brief: to focus on the new education and training requirements (ETR) that have been laid out by the General Optical Council (GOC).
The first optometry students to take Clinical Learning in Practice (CLiP) placements have now started their degrees, and in a year’s time many will be preparing to embark on the CLiP application process – the first students to effectively leave the traditional pre-registration year behind.
Here, Soomal shares his insight into how Specsavers is preparing its practices with OT.
What are your general thoughts on the changes that are coming for employers with regards to the new ETR?
There has been a lot of planning and discussions with stakeholders involved in the new ETR. Specsavers continues to work with each university, the College of Optometrists, and FODO, plus our own partners and supervisors.
We are working closely with our practice partners and supervisors to support them in understanding the changes and what the plans look like. This has included running a national webinar for Specsavers staff. We are now also delivering regional meetings across the divisions, to support individual partners and their practices.
We plan to provide regular updates and training sessions as we take learnings from students and supervisors on how they feel the process is working, and on ways we could improve support accordingly.
From an employer perspective, are there any challenges that you can perceive?
Any change from what we are used to is always going to be a challenge. We are entering into a new way of delivering registerable qualifications for optometry and ophthalmic dispensing. However, understanding the reasons for the change, working closely with stakeholders, and supporting our colleagues and supervisors, will ultimately benefit the student and ensure they have a great experience.
For many years, Specsavers practices have provided the majority of pre-registration placements to support the next generation of optometrists, and we regard this as an important contribution we make to the sustainability of the profession. With the ETR changes, we have increased the resource we provide in terms of support – including a new graduate recruitment team.
Understanding the reasons for the change, working closely with stakeholders, and supporting our colleagues and supervisors, will ultimately benefit the student
Has Specsavers given support to practices that might be concerned about changes to the traditional pre-reg year?
The approach has been very deliberate from Specsavers, in the way that support is being provided for students by practices.
Firstly, I have been appointed to this role specifically to focus on this – bringing my experience as a member of the Specsavers clinical service team for more than seven years, as a pre-reg supervisor and an ophthalmic partner.
The new role also provides each university with a point of contact within the Specsavers clinical service team and access to our wealth of experience as the largest employer for optometry graduates. My role also allows me to be better positioned to understand what environment the student is entering, and to help support them.
We also regularly call upon 20 practitioners who support face-to-face and online training materials for students, led by Specsavers head of optometry development, Judy Lea.
How will the new CLiP placements be incorporated?
In much the same way as [optometry student placements are] at present – pre-reg period placement, and short placements. Our partners will be prepared to take on both short placements and the longer CLiP placement. We are also supported by the Specsavers graduate engagement team, led by head of graduate engagement, Bethany Cann, which is also working very closely with the universities during the current scheme of registration and the new ETR programme.
We are being responsive with each of the universities regarding their short placement requirements and CLIP placements. While planning is well advanced, the College of Optometrists and individual universities are making final adjustments as to what they require, and we stand ready to support them with this regarding both the long and short placement. The importance of ongoing partnership from all stakeholders, recognising the essential role that employers play, is really important in this process, to make the new ETR a success.