I think WOPEC has definitely played a role in the development of the profession. If you don’t have that education and training to support advanced skills, it’s hard to improve them. There may be things that happen in small pockets, like in a hospital or a practice, but in order to be able to take those good ideas and roll them out to a wider group of the profession, I think WOPEC was really, really important.
The pandemic hasn’t made a big difference to our delivery as we’ve already done a lot online. We clearly saw a trend as our work and our student base continued to grow, and the courses people wanted got longer. There was a sense that people were educating themselves through COVID-19 and using any downtime they had to upskill themselves. We continue to see growth in adoption across all higher qualifications. When we started, WOPEC’s work was primarily focused on continuing professional development, but our postgraduate work, which is accredited by Cardiff University, the College of Optometrists and the General Optical Council, is really growing. to take off. In Wales, we now have the new contract which brings things forward. For those who completed the upper qualifications early, it was a bit risky. They educated themselves, hoped services and patients would follow, but there were no guarantees. Now in Wales there is certainly a guarantee, and across the UK there is an increase in the commissioning of improved services.
I think there are several factors to the increase in demand that we are seeing. There are waiting lists in hospitals, and where there may have been some resistance to working closely with community optometry, I think ophthalmologists realize how valuable our profession can be . But also, with the birth of a possible online refraction, or people buying glasses online, the business model of the profession may have to change. I think we have so much more we could offer to the health of Britons. We are an untapped resource. I think professionals with the qualifications give a level of security to those ordering the services.
I think we have so much more we could offer to the health of Britons. We are an untapped resource
We find that some of the qualifications that are traditionally taught to postgraduate students should be covered in undergraduate courses. We have designed a course at Cardiff University which incorporates some of what we have done at postgraduate level. We have had it approved by the university, but we are waiting for the General Optical Council (GOC) to approve it. This in itself can stimulate the demand for further training because if we train optometrists with a number of traditionally higher or professional qualifications, some might think that these become the basic skills.
We start to think, if everyone is upgrading their skills to the level that used to be postgraduate, then what does postgraduate look like now for those who are already qualified? Now that we are beginning to have a better career structure and clinical work progression, what might these practitioners of the future need?
enrolled in WOPEC/LOCSU courses in 2021
Future training developments will not only be clinical. We are exploring new avenues to extend clinical work, but in fact, as you move more services into the community, there are a whole host of other things that we as a profession need to improve. Health Education England has called them pillars of advanced practice: this involves clinical practice, leadership and management, education and research. Whereas if you are properly trained, the risks are not great, we have to make tougher decisions and handle more complex cases in our practices. We need the structures in place to ensure that patients are protected and that we professionals are protected.
We need to become better educators as a profession. One of our bottlenecks is finding people who can teach. We have all these people who want to learn, but not yet so many people who have the highest qualifications. Over time, it is hoped that the majority of optometrist placements in these higher qualifications can be in practice rather than in a hospital setting, but these people in practice must be able to educate, review and assess .
We are also looking at what will be the next roles that optometrists will take on in the community. There is talk of optometrists possibly performing selective laser trabeculoplasties and laser treatments, and the possibility of injections for macular degeneration. We have a lot of forums that we use to probe those ideas, to verify that it’s something that the profession feels safe and that others would like us to develop in this way.
We are currently spending a lot of our time trying to keep up with demand. We encourage anyone who has improved their skills in some of the higher qualifications to give serious thought to teaching. Sharing that knowledge is really important to us as a profession, and there are a lot of people out there who want to learn.
Optometry is a really interesting and exciting profession right now. Seize opportunities as they arise and don’t be afraid to learn.
WOPEC: The Journey So Far
Dr Nik Sheen and I were employed by Cardiff University around 2003. The university had won a tender to train optometrists in Wales to develop an acute eye care service and a low vision service . About three or four years later we had re-accreditation, and the scope of practice was extended a bit more, funded by the Welsh government.
Then in 2009 the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) told us they were developing extended courses in England and asked if we could bid to help them provide education. It was felt that we needed to create a slightly different entity for this, and that’s where WOPEC came from. We created the center so that we could continue what we were doing in Wales, England.
Over the years the types of things the Welsh Government, LOCSU and other organizations have asked us to provide training for, and the different pathways, have expanded and so has the scope of Continuing Professional Development learning (DPC) that we provided has also expanded.
In 2011 we created the first MSc that the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at Cardiff University offered. This was developed into a credit accumulation model, where people could bring some of the learning they had already done with us, whether they were from Wales or England, and use it for a master’s degree. When the College of Optometrists brought in their qualifications, we started crediting some of these modules.
It seemed that as we grew, the profession grew
One of the things that drove us forward was to look at other professions and see how well developed their postgraduate learning was and how much, at the time, postgraduate learning in optometry was underdeveloped.
We are lucky in Cardiff that optometry sits in a college alongside dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and health care. We could learn from other health professionals and discuss their needs with our colleagues in optometry.
As we brought together a group of people who were dedicated to thinking about the training, education and support the profession needed as it expanded into new roles, we found that it all fed into the each other. It seemed that as we grew, the profession grew.