Apr
28
2015

Study Optometry in the UK – Dr Hannah Bartlett, Aston University, UK.

optometry1What is an optometrist?

Optometrists are primary health care specialists trained to examine the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases or abnormality and problems with general health.

A detailed examination of the eye can reveal conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.  Optometrists make a health assessment, offer clinical advice and when necessary prescribe spectacles or contact lenses. In addition, optometrists can dispense, fit and supply spectacles or contact lenses.

Where can I study optometry within the UK?

Canadian students are welcome apply to study optometry in UK institutions; the universities that currently offer the programme are:

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If I study in the UK, can I return to work as an optometrist in Canada?

If you’re internationally trained as an optometrist (i.e. in a country outside of North America), and you wish to return to practice in Canada, you need to complete the International Optometry Bridging Program (IOBP). So it’s still possible to practice optometry in Canada, there’s just an extra step required. UK optometry schools offer BSc and Masters programmes, both of which will prepare you for entry to the IOBP. Credentialing information for entry onto the IOBP can be found at http://forac-faroc.ca/. The IOBP is either 2 months or 1 year (depending on how you do on the entry exam), then after that students are required to write the Canadian board exam.

I am confused about which programme I need to apply for. Do I need to do the ‘BSc Optometry’, ‘MOptom’ and ‘Doctor of Optometry’?

In the UK most optometry students will have completed GCSEs and A-levels before entering onto an Optometry BSc degree programme. Students are not required to have an undergraduate degree like they are in Canada. The route to becoming a qualified optometrist in the UK includes the following steps:

  1. Completion of an BSc Optometry degree
  2. Completion of the Scheme for Registration, which usually takes around a year (students are based in an optometric practice anywhere in the UK and are paid during this year). During this year, students sit professional qualifying exams that are set by the College of Optometrists. Once these exams have been passed, the student can apply for registration with the General Optical Council.

This process takes around four years in total.

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Some universities offer the opportunity to study for a Master’s rather than a BSc. For example, at Aston University, students on the Master’s of Optometry (MOptom) programme remain enrolled at Aston as distance learning students while they are completing the Scheme for Registration. They start the Scheme for Registration at a practice in the UK at the same time as the BSc students, but while they are working as pre-registered optometrists, they also complete distance learning modules as part of the Master’s programme. The cost of this year is the same as the other three years of the programme. One of the additional advantages to international students of doing the MOptom is that currently, they do not have to apply for a work visa in order to progress onto the pre-registration placement (although it is worth checking the visa situation when you apply).

In the UK, optometrists to not automatically use the prefix ‘Dr’ like they do in Canada. There are two ways in which UK optometrists might become Doctors of Optometry:

  1. By completing a PhD by research
  2. By completing a Doctor of Optometry, like the one offered at Aston University (So, in the UK, optometrists complete their Doctorate post-qualification, if they want to.

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What are the A-level courses that form part of the entry requirement for UK applicants?

A-levels are requirements for UK students. In the UK, optometry, medicine, dentistry, and all other vocational degrees are undergraduate programmes that students apply to when they are in their second year of A-level study (aged 17-18 years).

Canadian applicants can apply to study optometry directly from High School, or after you have completed an undergraduate degree (please check the course webpages for specific details). However, it is important for you to be aware of requirements for entry onto the International Optometric Bridging Programme when considering your application, if you are planning to go back to Canada to work as an optometrist:

Canadian applicants to the IOBP must either:

  • have completed three years of full-time undergraduate university studies in science subjects prior to enrolling on the Aston optometry programme, or,
  • have completed three years of work experience in the UK after completion of the pre-registration period and registration with the General Optical Council.

For more detailed entry requirements please contact the Admissions Team within each university.

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How do you apply?

All applications should be made via the UCAS system (https://www.ucas.com/)

Can you apply before you complete your undergraduate degree?

Yes – if you apply before completing your undergraduate degree we will do one of two things:

  • Make you an unconditional offer based on your High School grades. This means that, if you accept, you will automatically have a place on the programme for the next academic year. If your High School grades do not meet our entry criteria, then we may..
  • Make you a conditional offer based on your performance to date on the undergraduate degree programme. For example, we might say that we will accept you onto the programme if you achieve a GPA of 3.5. If you do achieve a GPA of 3.5 then you will automatically have a place on the programme. If you don’t, you may still be offered a place depending on how many other applicants meet the terms of their conditional offers. The vast majority of offers that we make to UK applicants will be conditional on their A-levels results. This means that we don’t know how many places are filled until the A-level results are released in August.

Remember to be mindful of the IOBP entry requirements:

Canadian applicants to the IOBP must either:

  • have completed three years of full-time undergraduate university studies in science subjects prior to enrolling on the Aston optometry programme, or,
  • have completed three years of work experience in the UK after completion of the pre-registration period and registration with the General Optical Council.

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What are their preferences on re-taken classes?  I know that Waterloo averages the two and American school take the higher of the two.

It is best to the Admissions Team at the university you are interested in about your specific circumstances.

How many references do they require, and what type of references? 

Follow the guidelines provided for the UCAS system. We usually expect at least one reference and this reference should be an academic one. If you have additional work-related references then you can submit these additionally.

Besides being able to explore a place halfway around the world, are there benefits to studying optometry in the UK?

This question is answered by Aston Optometry undergraduate, Natasha Richards:

One benefit of going to the US was that you don’t have to do the IOBP when you go back to Canada. However, studying in the US is more expensive, and in my opinion it wasn’t as exciting a place to live for 4+ years. There are about 10 Canadians at Aston in my year (first year), and we all really like it so far. There’s a lot of hands-on experience, and the professors really care about you doing well.

I’m currently on a Masters of Optometry program, rather than the BSc. So, the program is normally 3 years to get your BSc, and then you must complete a 1-year placement, called a pre-registration year as part of the Scheme for Registration. To get your Masters, you’ll be taking online classes while doing the pre-registration year. It’s most definitely worth it to do the Masters, because it gives you necessary information on Ocular Therapeutics, which you’ll need to go back to Canada. Also, with the Master’s program you’ll still be in school during the pre-registration year, so you can stay on your student visa (rather than applying for a separate work visa). It is worth checking whether the school you attend is one that is accepted for OSAP funding, if you’re from Ontario.

In terms of going to Australia for optometry school, the same thing applies regarding tuition fees – it’s much more expensive!  I was actually debating between the UK and a school in Australia, but decided against Australia for a few reasons.  First of all, the tuition fee is much higher.  On top of that, living costs and travel/flight expenses are more as well.  It’s also very isolated from the rest of the world; not only based on the distance, but there’s a time difference of more than 12 hours between Australia and Canada, so communicating with friends and family back home is difficult.  In Australia, school starts in February instead of in September/October – so, I received an acceptance from them very late (in August), and had I gone there I would have had to postpone my studies for another 4-5 months. In terms of the actual program, it seems to the same standard as US/Canadian/UK schools, but there were other factors that deterred me from going there.

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About the Author: Katie Idle

About our business, Study and Go Abroad is the 'go to' site for Canadians looking to study abroad, travel, intern or volunteer. We organize fairs twice a year in various cities in Canada, and I'd recommend getting down to one of them to check out all the exciting options. As for me, I'm a business woman and a travel junkie! I have always had a passion for travel and for experiencing new cultures. Brought up in England, I traveled Europe in my teens and early 20s. I have lived and worked on 3 continents; Europe, Africa and North America. I have traveled extensively worldwide both for work and for fun - and still can't believe how much of the world there is still to see!

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