Filling a training need

Sarah Smith, RN, M.Ed., CRNO

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics collaborates with Kirkwood Community College on new ophthalmic assistant course

The need for medical services and eye care continues to grow in Iowa as the state’s population ages. At the same time, a tight healthcare labor market is making it difficult to find skilled employees who are qualified to work in an eye clinic setting.

A new education program piloted last fall aims to address the need for skilled technicians who can assist in meeting the demand for eye care in the eastern Iowa region.

Kirkwood Community College in Coralville has created a new ophthalmic assistant course for individuals seeking to advance their skills in the specialized area of eye care. The twelve-week course prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become a valued member of an eye care team.

Much of the unique course was developed by a staff member and former nurse manager of UI Hospitals & Clinics Eye Clinic. Sarah Smith, RN, M.Ed., CRNO, has nearly 40 years of experience in ophthalmic nursing and has developed and taught many courses and conferences over the years. She developed the course structure and experiences with Kirkwood continuing education staff, UI Hospitals & Clinics administrators, and local eye clinics.

Students undergo ten weeks of didactic teaching that covers basic anatomy, physiology, and common eye diseases and conditions.  Instruction in basic examination techniques and ophthalmic procedures are also incorporated into the training. The last portion of the course is an 80-hour rotation in an eye clinic setting among eye care professionals. Locations include the main Eye Clinic and University of Iowa Health Care – Iowa River Landing Eye Clinic, as well as private practice settings in the Corridor area.

Smith enjoyed helping new students grow in their understanding of the visual system and foster an interest in eye care. 

“My passion has always been teaching and I enjoy being able to introduce the students to the field of ophthalmology which is an area of healthcare and medicine that is not necessarily well-known.” Smith shares about the course (that), “another element is getting the students comfortable with the close proximity involved in sharing the personal space with patients that is needed in eye care.”

One of those students is Allie Copple who was among the inaugural class. She reflects on her experience, “The most challenging part was trying to absorb all the information. Skill-wise I found Goldmann applanation and understanding refraction to be very challenging.”

Copple completed her clinic experience at the University of Iowa Health Care – Iowa River Landing clinic and then joined the UI Hospitals & Clinics Eye Clinic as an ophthalmic technician.

“(I) loved how much they all seemed to love what they do and care for the patients. I had also liked how much I could learn from being at a place, like the University, that has access to so many different resources to care for patients. It’s very cool to be a part of a team that has such a broad spectrum of knowledge,” she says.

Other graduates from the inaugural course have gone on to pursue career opportunities with eye clinics where they are helping address the demand for eye care across the broader community.  Another offering of the certificate course is planned for the Fall 2020 semester.

Kirkwood’s Program Director Kari Rosetti states, “We have received interest from several area businesses, so there is certainly still a need for this course and employment opportunities are available in the areas Kirkwood serves.  We look forward to continuing to offer such a successful course that responds to the needs of the communities we serve.”

Sarah Smith explains the components and use of the phoropter, or refractor.

Smith explains the components and use of the phoropter, or refractor. The ophthalmic testing device contains different lenses used for refraction of the eye during sight testing and to measure an individual's refractive error.

Allie Copple (center) peers into the teaching scope during a practice examination.

Copple (center) peers into the teaching scope during a practice examination. She completed her clinical experience at the University of Iowa Health Care – Iowa River Landing eye clinic.

Friday, May 29, 2020