AAO and ASCO Establishes Virtual Clinical Training Program to Keep Optometry Students on Graduation Track

With COVID-19 leaving students unable to see patients in person, the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) is establishing an unprecedented virtual clinical training program to help the nation’s 1,800 fourth-year prospective Doctors of Optometry accumulate the 350 clinical observation hours they need to graduate.

The Academy and its board members are working with the Associations of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) and the deans and faculty of optometric schools, to develop an online experience that will continue students’ clinical education.

As part of their clinical curriculum, optometry students typically shadow doctors and work with patients in a hospital or clinic to gain first-hand patient experience, but in the current environment, many are unable to satisfy this requirement. The new program entitled, the Student Online Clinical Case Education Program (SOCCEP) will immediately provide several weeks of live-streamed and/or recorded experiences, each approximately 30-minutes in length. During each session, a faculty or industry presenter will deliver a specific case study. Students will then have an opportunity to ask questions before the session concludes with the lecturer delivering a patient outcome.

Academy Board President Dr. Barbara Caffery said, “This is a direct and rapid response to the coronavirus crisis. Once our Academy Fellows in universities identified the clinical issue, we knew we were the only organization with the membership and reach to quickly pull together the resources they needed.”

While the program was designed to help fourth-year students build clinical hours toward graduation, it is also expected to be utilized as a supplemental and continuing education program for others. The organizers hope it will also help maintain the pipeline of new Doctors of Optometry, crucial to providing continued excellent service to patients after the COVID-19 threat ends. Academy Chief Executive Officer Peter Scott said, “As a leading optometric association, we’re in a unique position to bring together partners from the academic world to make this happen. This is not a time to hold back.”

The SOCCEP program is unprecedented in the Academy’s nearly 100-year history, but it is perfectly aligned with the organization’s new strategic plan that actively seeks deeper engagement with members.

“We are committed to advancing excellence in eyecare and in this time of urgency, that commitment is even more important,” said Dr. Caffery. She pointed out that this is a program that could live well beyond the current crisis. “The Academy is so much more than a meeting. We have the ability to make a positive impact in the daily lives of students, optometrists and the public, and this is the first of our many initiatives that will provide exceptional education, support innovative research, and disseminate knowledge to advance optometric practice and improve patient care.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe, Associations of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) President and Founding Dean, Western University of Health Sciences, College of Optometry, concurs. “During these trying times, ASCO understands the education of our optometric students — fourth year students who are nearing graduation in particular – must continue. Our faculty has really stepped up to the challenge and will continue to lead these online clinical education sessions for the foreseeable future. These soon to be Doctors of Optometry will remain a vital part of the healthcare landscape and that has never been more apparent than during this pandemic.”

For additional information on the Student Online Clinical Case Education Program, click here: www.aaopt.org/soccep.


About the American Academy of Optometry
The American Academy of Optometry (AAO) inspires excellence in optometric practice by fostering research and disseminating knowledge in vision science through its journal, Optometry and Vision Science, and the continuing education presented at its annual meeting. Fellows of the Academy are committed to the premise that learning is a lifelong obligation of a professional, as is the commitment to expand the profession’s knowledge base through ongoing fellowship and exchange. For more information, visit the website: http://www.aaopt.org.