AOA applauds revised optometric education standards

AOA applauds revised optometric education standards

AOA applauds the ACOE for its recognition of the importance of high-quality and detailed standards.

Newly revised optometric education accreditation standards ensure institutions of higher learning continue delivering the kind of quality clinical instruction commensurate to the standard of care patients deserve.

The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) adopted revised standards for professional optometric degree (POD) and optometric residency programs in February 2016 following a comprehensive, five-year review of each set of standards. The new standards, which will take effect July 1, 2017, are mandatory for all programs evaluated on or after the effective date, though programs may choose to be evaluated by these standards beforehand for site visits.

Accreditation standards set high bar for POD programs
J. Bart Campbell, O.D., ACOE chair, says these revisions reflect a coordinated effort with input from the larger academic community and profession to make sure accreditation standards are up to date and reflect the profession's current landscape. Among revisions in the 2017 POD program standards, Dr. Campbell notes four key changes:

  1. Independent practice. The 2017 standards clearly reflect that the ACOE is intent on meeting the Council's mission to serve the public by establishing, maintaining and applying standards to ensure academic quality and continuous improvement of optometric education that reflect the contemporary practice of optometry. The standards pertaining to program mission and curriculum clearly require the program to prepare graduates to independently practice contemporary optometry.
  2. Setting the 'bright line.' The ACOE's standard on student achievement now specifies a bright line that indicates the Council's expectations for programs regarding completion and attainment of licensure.
  3. Offering comparative data. To increase transparency, the new standards require all programs to publish data such as graduation rates, attrition rates and board passage rates. Having similar information available for all programs will allow students to make informed comparisons between programs.
  4. Bolstering external learning. Because external clinical education is a key component of the curriculum, the new standards include increased requirements for selecting, monitoring, evaluating and providing educational guidance and support to external clinical sites and faculty.

Professional degree program landscape
These revised accreditation standards keeps the bar set high for POD programs and residencies as professional degree programs across the board—not only optometry—experience continued interest and growth.

While optometry has seen six new schools and colleges of optometry open or gain preliminary accreditation since 2008—bringing the total number of schools to 23—dentistry, likewise, saw 10 new school openings or 'initial accreditations' bringing the total number of dental schools to 65, according to the American Dental Education Association. In 2014, optometry schools graduated about 1,500 doctors, compared to dentistry's 5,500.

The ACOE continues to require any program wishing to become accredited or to remain accredited to meet these standards. Strict standards are necessary to ensure preparation of doctors of optometry that will meet the public's need for optometric care.

'Only the highest quality education' for future colleagues
Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., AOA vice president, says AOA strongly supports and has been actively engaged in advocating for stricter standards throughout the standards review process.

"AOA applauds the ACOE for its continued recognition of the importance of high-quality and detailed standards as a necessary component for the granting of the professional degree, Doctor of Optometry," Dr. Quinn says.

Dr. Quinn notes that AOA takes a vested interest in high-quality optometric education and works with ACOE to ensure a bright future for the profession. In the past, AOA convened a blue-ribbon panel of education experts to offer guidance on education standards, and participated with the community of interest at the ACOE stakeholder meeting prior to ACOE's proposal for revised standards. The AOA also offered strong and detailed commentary to ACOE during the comment period before adoption of the final standards.

"AOA also encourages ACOE to strictly apply the new standards to maintain consistency across programs and to assure only the highest quality education is provided to our future colleagues," Dr. Quinn says.

The ACOE's five-year review of standards previously promulgated in 2009 began with an Optometric Standards Invitational Conference in October 2014, followed by a review period whereby two draft versions of the standards were circulated prior to adoption. Although the comprehensive review occurs every five years, the ACOE routinely solicits and review comments about standards.

Changes to optometric residency standards focus on clarity of intent
Revisions to the optometric residency standards provide clarification of intent of several of the standards. Feedback received from the ACOE's survey of stakeholders on the criticality and clarity of the standards showed a high degree of agreement with the standards, but in some cases, respondents indicated an explanation of the Council's expectations pertaining to the standard was needed. The number of optometric residency programs continues to grow. In 2010, the ACOE accredited 150 residencies. Today, ACOE accredits 201 residencies, and the ACOE will consider accreditation for nine new residencies at its annual meeting later this month.

Click here to find the revised POD and optometric residency standards.

June 3, 2016

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