A focus on Education requirements for Optometry and Dispensing Optics

GOC Director of Education Leonie Milliner discusses the new education and training requirements.

"In March 2021 GOC published its updated requirements for qualifications it approves in optometry and dispensing optics. Read the new requirements.

The new requirements are a significant shift away from the previous input-orientated two stage route to qualification as an optical professional. Perhaps the most significant difference is that education providers will now have to fully integrate at least 48 weeks of clinical, patient facing experience, so that it sits within and is assessed as part of a single approved qualification in either optometry or dispensing optics.  The practical effect of this pivot to a fully integrated route to registration as an optical professional is not to change the ‘diagram’ of optical education, or the overall length of time it takes to train, but more vitally, ensure future Registrants’ professional and clinical capability and confidence to occupy safely current and future roles within service redesign.  

In addition, the new ‘Outcomes for Registration’ are markedly different from the overly prescriptive straightjacket of competence and patient episodes which defined the GOC’s expectations of education providers since the turn of the millennium. Within our new ‘Outcomes for Registration’ you will find a far greater focus on key skills such as professional judgement, patient-centred communication, management of risk and diagnostic, consultation and clinical practice skills. Our new requirements will ensure future Registrants can meld critical thinking, clinical-reasoning and decision-making, are well-prepared to take responsibility for decisions and actions, engage in research-informed clinical practice and respond effectively to changing patent and service-user needs in each of the four nations. 

What are the other key changes?  We now require qualifications we approve to be either a regulated qualification (i.e., regulated by Ofqual or SQA) or an academic award at a minimum of level 7 (for optometry) and level 6 (for dispensing optics.)  This is the first time GOC has specified a minimum RQF level for qualifications we approve in optometry, and for dispensing optics, we’ve raised the minimum qualification threshold from level 5 to level 6.  We now also require that the supervision of students during periods of learning and experience in practice must safeguard patients and service-users and not be adversely affected by commercial pressures. This is also the first time that the GOC has required providers of GOC approved qualifications, such as universities and professional bodies, to demonstrate that they are identifying and managing appropriately any commercial conflicts of interest in qualification design, delivery and assessment.

When might education providers start offering qualifications that meet our new requirements? We said all along that the pace of change will be set by universities and their capacity to adapt their existing GOC approved qualifications in optometry and dispensing optics to meet the new requirements. We know our academic community is particularly hard-pressed at the moment, juggling the demands of covid with managing broadscale changes to degree-programmes. We’ve also said that we expect education providers to consult widely with their stakeholders to ensure the changes they make to qualifications approved by us are informed by, and involve, patients, commissioners, statutory education bodies, employers, alumni and the communities of practitioners which work so hard to support local education provision. That will all take time, and we are using this year’s Annual Monitoring and Review process to understand provider’s proposed timescales for adaptation and plan our resource accordingly.   

In the meantime, we continue to seek your views on other strands of work in our strategic review of education, namely updated requirements for qualifications we approve leading to specialist registration for dispensing options as a Contact Lens Optician. The deadline for responses is 13 December 2021."