COVID-19: How it’s affected final year Optometry students

The final year of your degree is meant to culminate in celebration and reward but before all that comes deadlines, placements and hard work. This year, another hurdle has presented itself that our students must overcome. Below, final year Optometry student, Hajra Sattar discusses the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on her final year and considers how the future may look for herself as a qualified Optometrist…

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The current situation is one that none of us have experienced in our lifetime. From staff to students, the academic world has changed quickly and dramatically. Attitude and will power to complete what was started, whilst facing some of the toughest logistical challenges has proven more important than ever. The past few months have seen the collective efforts of every individual to ensure that the new ‘working from home’ world, could provide the next best (and safe) alternative.

When the news began to break that the University may close due to the pandemic, most of the third-year optometry students were close to completing the required ‘core competencies’ required for certification. Students need to see a certain number of patients and complete a number of patient episodes in order to graduate. Patient numbers and episodes had not yet been complete but bookings in the clinic began to fall and some patients stopped turning up. Lecture attendance was also not recommended and had shifted online.

As a final year optometry student, more than 60% of the learning is done face to face in a clinical setting and most sessions require patients. Naturally it became unsafe to carry out the ‘normal’ sight test, and social distancing made it almost impossible. All clinics had been cancelled two weeks before the end of the semester. This caused a lot of difficulty as all final year students need to complete the required competencies in order to be deem safe, to enter the pre-registration year. It has since been agreed that all outstanding competencies and patient numbers will be carried over and completed at the start of the pre-registration year, in practice.

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Online learning and assessments

Some competencies were able to be assessed via an online viva to ensure that students enter the pre reg year with the least number of outstanding competencies. Lecturers often held ‘Zoom’ classes where students could ask anything that they were unsure of. For example, the ‘Personal and Professional Development’ module had been moved to ‘Zoom’ whereby every group would discuss the case and management with one tutor, similar to how it was done in person, rather just behind a screen.

Exam format was also changed from closed book written papers, to open book essay. We had seven days to complete one essay question per module. We also had live ‘google documents’ open before exams began, where students could ask questions relating from theory to exam format, and lecturers would answer them every day. Practical exams also make up most of the final year marks. With all on campus exam cancelled, marks were derived from assessments already completed through out the year.

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Support and the future

The College of Optometrists and the Association of Optometrists have frequently provided guidance to students and qualified optometrists regarding the future of practice and the profession. The University has provided ongoing support from both academic and social aspects with lectures often checking in to discuss any matters. Many high street pre-registration jobs have been postponed for up to six months which has left many students with little to do in such unprecedented times. Hospital pre-reg jobs have also been delayed and it is expected that working conditions will be very different from before, with many cases being complications as a result of the lockdown.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of working together in order to achieve the best clinical teaching. The value of being ‘shown how’ or even just observing techniques, should never be underestimated and I urge all students to make the most of these teaching and learning methods in the coming years.

To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here


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