Tuesday 29 September 2015

Portsmouth University plans to run a Masters in Optometry (MOptom) course in September 2016.

Even course clinical advisor and practising optometrist Andrew Matheson admits he was sceptical when he was initially approached by course project leader and associate head of education Dr Isobel Ryder. He, like others, questioned the need for another course, but was also keen to find out how the university intended to deliver on its aims.
After listening to Ryder’s plans for the course and on how it would fulfil an underserviced part of the country, Andrew was convinced that it would be of significant benefit to optometry in the south of England.

In the following months, university staff have been working hard on developing the course alongside the General Optical Council, the College, local independents and the multiples. Dr Ryder adds that local independent practices have, in particular, been very supportive of the new course – a factor which underlines the need for a new school in the south of England. It has also begun work on building a brand new 154sqm teaching laboratory ahead of a GOC inspection in the autumn.

One of the key recent developments has been the university’s decision to remain independent from any single optometric business or equipment manufacturer. Dr Ryder says the university has chosen to remain independent because it wants to set its own syllabus agenda. Some of the newer courses have struggled with a slightly negative perception from within the profession after establishing courses with multiples – something Dr Ryder wanted to avoid.

Andrew Matheson adds that this desire for independence extends into the specification of its clinical teaching laboratory, which allows the best individual pieces of equipment to be chosen. It also underscores the university’s aim to be a ‘centre of clinical excellence.’
The 13 teaching clinic consulting rooms lab are now completed. Each 2.6m wide bay will mimic a consulting room and feature a digital slit lamp which can broadcast images to a central screen for students to view and discuss findings. Carl Zeiss will provide Humphrey visual fields analysers and an OCT – which will integrate together usiung Forum software for advanced integrated analysis. The key learning on the interpretation of OCT imagery will feature early on in the course, which reflects the changing nature of optometric practice.
The four year integrated undergraduate Masters has been designed to incorporate the pre-reg placement between years three and four. The placements will see the practice, the student and the university working together in a collaborative manner. Matheson believes that traditionally, practitioners taking on pre-reg students are faced with having to spend extra time teaching a student in areas where their skills fall short, or aborting the placement. The pre-reg system the university is going to adopt will look to avoid that by allowing students to be recalled for additional training if required. Students will get very ‘hands-on’ early in the first year, as well as learning physiology elements and the importance of evidence and understanding research methods.

Applying to do Optometry at Portsmouth

Approval of the course by the GOC is expected in early 2016, after which potential optometry students can apply through the UCAS system. Entry grade requirements are yet to be finalised, but are expected to have more flexibility than some other institutions. Each candidate will be interviewed before places are offered to ensure that they have the communication skills required to interact with patients. Motivation and bed-side manner are important attributes that will be taken into account along with academic achievements

University Staff

Initially the university will appoint 5 optometry lecturers and also is able to draw on the existing teaching skill base at the university, where many related healthcare subjects are covered. Most of the optometry lecturer posts have been filled already. All lecturers will be involved in university research.

Once the course starts further lecturers will be added. This would suit dynamic individuals with an academic background and clinical skills.

Portsmouth is lucky to be surrounded by many high quality and forward thinking optometrists with specialist interests, several of whom have expressed an interest in helping the students in their training. Optometry here has very strong links with local hospitals with several enhanced schemes in place, such as PEARS, Glaucoma Refinement, Glaucoma co-management and low vision.

In the south of England, there is a real shortage of optometrists as it is hard to attract those who have settled close to their training institutions. Even for those managing to employ a pre-reg willing to re-locate, the sad fact is that many eventually drift homeward not long after their training.

For this reason, it makes more sense to take smaller student intakes in areas of real need than to carry on increasing the number of students at existing centres.

Portsmouth is ideally suited to fill the void between Cardiff and Plymouth to the west and London and Anglia to the East. As there are no established courses locally, Portsmouth should not be seen as a threat but an asset to UK optometric education.

The Portsmouth course will be very practically based - aiming to release graduates at an MOptom (Masters) level who will have completed their equivalent of the Pre-registration year in the last 2 terms of year 3 and the first 2 terms of year 4. Right from year one, local optometrists will be involved in their training helping to ensure that the students leaving the course are prepared for the tasks ahead of them in their professional career. Applicants will be interviewed prior to offers to ensure they have the right balance of academic and people skills. High academic grades alone do not necessarily guarantee the production of the best clinical optometrists.

Although Portsmouth University is strong on research, the course focus will be to produce excellent clinicians prepared for the evolution of our profession both now and in the future. The integrated pre-reg year and hospital placement takes away the worries many final year optometrists have about obtaining a pre-reg year with a suitable supervisor. Optometry is an extremely challenging degree and students will benefit hugely from the absence of such extra worries.

The Portsmouth University  will be a centre of excellence working with local optometrists and hospitals and will be equipped with state of the art equipment: Initially there will be 13 eye exam “rooms”, each with high-end digital slit-lamps able to do both still and high definition video imaging. These are ideal for teaching techniques such as gonioscopy and Volk. The imaging system will integrate with the retinal cameras, which will be capable of fundus autofluorescence, and be able to review anterior and posterior segment OCT and visual field analyser results in each cubicle and in the central teaching area. With all the available resources, the students will become familiar with good practice from year one.

Portsmouth also has plans in the future to introduce therapeutic training for optometrists and a course in dispensing optics.

Portsmouth University already has a strong healthcare pedigree with existing courses such as Paramedic Science, Pharmacy, Nursing and Midwifery.

Hampshire is a wonderful place to live and study with a myriad of things to see and do, both in the countryside and the coast. All types of water-sports are  available locally, with the university having several specialist clubs. The area is well served with rail and road connections to the rest of the UK. Even Europe is not too far away by ferry!

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