To write this article, I thought I would get information from the people that know best: real-life optometrists from around the world. Join me on my journey with them; our first stop is Jena, Germany!
Hendrik Walther: “Craftsmanship & Contact Lenses” Education: BSc, MSc (Optom), University of Applied Sciences, Jena, Germany (2011)
Currently: Ph.D. candidate, Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR), University of Waterloo (UW)
Hendrik had the tricky job of explaining to me exactly how optometry school and the profession of optometry work in Germany. Here’s what I learned: technically, there is no designation for optometry, and people are just beginning to use the word in Germany. With an apprenticeship, usually three years, the student becomes a registered optician (augenoptiker). This pretty much means the same thing as it does in Canada or the U.S., but the RO designation is required for the 3.5 year BSc, which is similar to our OD. The focus in the BSc is put on the “craftsmanship” of optometry as scope of practice prohibits them from making any diagnosis or prescribing any drugs, which is left to ophthalmologists. After the BSc, students can continue on in a course-based MSc program, which many students like Hendrik elect to do. There are four German optometry schools, and the education is slightly different at each; Jena is known for its association with Carl Zeiss. Also, specifically at Jena, there is a rigorous contact lens program, which Hendrik says was his inspiration for his current position at the CCLR in Waterloo.
Alex Muntz: “The I Don’t Know of Research” Education: BSc, MSc (Optom) University of Applied Sciences, Jena, Germany (2011)
Currently: Ph.D. Candidate, CCLR, UW
Alex, Hendrik’s former and current classmate, and I got to chatting a little bit about the optometry student experience in Germany. Originally from Romania, Alex completed only a six-month (rather than three-year) apprenticeship before enrolling at Jena and at 18, found himself extremely fortunate to be the youngest person in his class of about 30. Having had the enriching experience of traveling to study, and now as a teaching assistant at UWSO, he sees one big difference at Jena: there was no clinic at the school and legality limited ocular health clinical exposure. For example, IOP could only be taken using NCT. There was such a focus on refraction that their fifth term (externships) had three parts: contact lenses, refraction, and shadowing ophthalmologists in a hospital. Without as much of a health focus, Alex gained expertise in contact lens and did extensive work with instruments in lab, giving him the desire to be at the forefront of optometric technology. He calls his motivation for school “The I Don’t Know of Research.” While there are stark differences, including that German students enjoy indefinitely interest-free loans and what we might see as little-to-no tuition fees, Alex noted that students around the world are all motivated equally.
Jaya Dantam: “Experience & Interaction” Education: BOptom, Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry, Hyderabad, India (2006), Ph.D., Brien Holden Vision Institute and School of Optometry & Vision Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2012)
Currently: Post-Doctoral Fellow, CCLR, UW
Graduating from the Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry in Hyderabad, India, Jaya gained extensive clinical experience during her internship at the globally recognised L.V. Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI). Alongside ophthalmologists, her experience was highly medical with interns gaining wide exposure to specialty cases in various departments of the LVPEI including, such as uvea, low vision, oculoplasty and optical-outlet, with an option of rural area postings. On average, she used to work-up at least 30 cases daily, of which about 10 needed comprehensive eye exams, while the remainder were follow- ups. Jaya says that working with such a large volume of patients was consistent with the educational experience being highly interactive. With her limited class population (13), daily interaction with professors was common. Students were called upon randomly to answer questions during class; this accelerated and standardized their learning experience by allowing the professor to track how the class was learning.
India has about 46 optometry institutes, with a varying quality of education. Hence, in recent years, significant work has been conducted to regulate and establish a standardized profession of optometry in India. For more information on optometric practice in India, references are included:
De Souza N, Cui Y, Looi S, Paudel P, Shinde L, Kumar K, Berwal R, Wadhwa R, Daniel V, Flanagan J, Holden B. The role of optometrists in India: An integral part of an eye health team. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2012. 60(5):401-405.
Thite N, Jaggernath J, Chinanayi F, Bharadwaj S, Kunjeer G. Pattern of Optometry Practice and Range of Services in India. Optom Vis Sci. May 2015. 92(5):615-22.
Matthew O. Oriowo: “Let’s train them right” Education: BSc (Optom), University of Benin, Nigeria, MSc, Ph.D., UW, FAAO
Currently: Professor and department head of Optometry & Vision Science, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria
Earning his BSc at the first optometry school in Nigeria, Dr. Matthew Oriowo practiced for several years before traveling to Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa in various positions including playing a major role in setting up optometry schools. He’s currently setting up the curriculum for Nigeria’s 6th school of optometry in Ilorin, which opened in 2013.
The OD program at Ilorin is six years after high school with the class of 38 students spending the first two years taking basic science courses.
With no upper-year classes in the program yet, the clinical curriculum is somewhat undecided but Dr. Oriowo’s goal is to “ensure the optometry curriculum is very standard, including all aspects of optometry, such that we are not doing a disservice to the profession.”
Nigeria has a fairly wide scope of practice similar to Canada and many states in the United States. Optometrists can prescribe for ocular surface infections and treat glaucoma to a certain extent.
Having only four lecturers at Ilorin and all six optometry schools in the southern part of Nigeria, the only thing holding them back is “lack of manpower,” according to Dr. Oriowo. He encourages anyone interested in gaining a great clinical experience to go there.
I hope you enjoyed this little trip around world; I certainly did! From my time with these amazing optometrists, I’ve seen that though they may differ in their degrees, designations, and scope of practice, all optometrists love what they do.