Optometry has ‘the power to surprise’

The Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) promotes international excellence in education in the healthcare professions. Our Head of Assessment, Joseph Oakley, reports back on their most recent conference.

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Author: Joseph Oakley, Head of Assessment 
Date: 20 September 2017

The AMEE 2017 conference, the largest medical education conference in the world, is coming to an end. The tagline this year was ‘the power to surprise’ and the diverse programme certainly did that.

I was proud to be representing our members, examiners, and the profession more generally, by giving a short communication about the work the College has done on standardising the marking of communication skills in our Final Assessment OSCE.

Whenever I come to these conferences, where our assessment practices are laid bare to medical education experts from around the globe, I am always slightly anxious that I will discover something that we should be doing differently. However, my trepidation always turns quickly to pride as I realise, and am reassured, that the College of Optometrists continues to provide a modern and robust assessment programme which remains in line with the current gold standard in medical assessment.

This does not mean, though, that I sit back and wallow in smug satisfaction. Conversely, surrounding myself with fellow medical assessment professionals (we are a niche group), gives me the opportunity to reflect on what we do as an assessment provider and inspires me to continue to improve what we do. How can we better incorporate meaningful and structured reflection into our programme? Are we adequately assessing the nebulous but important issue of professionalism within our trainees? How can the College promote resilience in undergraduate students and pre-regs to mitigate trainee burn out in the transition from university to clinical training in the work place? All these questions are swirling round my mind as I leave chilly but beautiful Helsinki.

Whenever I come to these conferences [...] I am always slightly anxious that I will discover something that we should be doing differently.

It is probably not a surprise, though, to read that optometry, along with other allied health professionals, are poorly represented at the conference, particularly compared to our medical doctor cousins. The keynote speaker, a professional Covent Garden magician and street performer, urged the audience to look up from our ‘tricks’ and consider the effect of our ‘magic ‘on our audience. In the past, I think, in optometry, we were too narrowly fixated on our ‘tricks’ and sometimes forget to look up and appreciate how our clinical skills could have a more impactful effect on our wider audience (patients and the wider healthcare community).

Yet, as another plenary speaker drew the allegory of healthcare systems being like a symphony orchestra, I mused on how optometrists are now perfectly placed to play a more advanced (clinical) piece in the healthcare ensemble. Rather than the lone percussionist, supported by the College’s thorough pre-registration assessment and developed through our higher qualifications framework, optometry is beginning to establish itself as a louder, more prominent, section in the healthcare cacophony.

I know that optometrists have the power to surprise. My job now is to make sure our assessments, from Stage 1 to IP and beyond, continue to allow them to develop and demonstrate the skills necessary to perform in the wider healthcare landscape.

Joseph Oakley
Head of Assessment, College of Optometrists

Having initially trained and worked as a modern languages head of department and GCSE examiner for a large assessment board, Joseph is currently Head of Assessment at the College of Optometrists and is responsible for the development, co-ordination and quality assurance of all examinations offered by the College. His recent work has been on reviewing examiner standardisation in the Final Assessment OSCE.


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