The value of extended clinical placements: Perspectives from a unique optometry program

Ms Jacqueline Kirkman1, Prof Sharon Bentley2, A/Prof James Armitage1, Prof Craig Woods1

1Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Australia, 2Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove, Australia

Background:  Optometry student clinical placements have typically been conducted in metropolitan locations in short-rotations. This can limit opportunities to fully participate in patient care and build meaningful mentor connections. Furthermore, students may not appreciate the unique aspects of rural practice. Modelled on the Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship Programs used in medicine, Deakin University was the first Australian optometry program to incorporate an extended placement. This study aimed to investigate the value and impact of extended clinical placements in optometry from the perspective of students and supervisors.

Methods: A mixed methods cross-sectional design was used with convenience sampling. Following the extended placement (26-weeks, with a minimum of 13-weeks in a rural location), final-year Deakin optometry students were invited to participate in a 41-item survey (n=36) and/or focus group (n=24) exploring: placement experience; future practice intention; and views on rural life and practice. Supervising optometrists’ experiences were investigated in a 38-item survey (n=46) and/or in-depth interview (n=9). Descriptive statistics were used to summarise quantitative data. Qualitative data were transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis in NVivo.

Results: Both students and supervisors viewed the extended placement positively. 95% of supervisors considered the placement prepared students for future practice. 93% were open to supervising students again. Students and supervisors suggested the longer placement facilitated greater engagement and immersion, resulting in work-ready graduates. For 43% of students, the experience altered their future practice location intentions. Concerns included financial burdens, student isolation and anxiety, supervisor time-pressure and inconsistency in clinical exposure.

Conclusions: The continuity offered by extended placements enhances learning opportunities and facilitates a smooth transition into the workforce. Universities should ensure they allow for autonomy and flexibility during placements, and that students and supervisors are provided with regular support. Lessons from Deakin Optometry’s program could help guide placement development across a range of professions.


Biography:

Jacqueline is an optometrist with teaching, clinical supervision and outreach practice experience. She is currently completing her PhD at Deakin University, which seeks to evaluate the impact of extended clinical placements in optometry. She has a strong interest in providing access to healthcare for vulnerable Australians as well as those who reside in underserviced areas. In particular, her interest lies in training the next generation of rural optometrists.  Jacqueline is a 2018 recipient of Graduate Women Victoria’s bursary ‘In memory of Feminist Fathers’.

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