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Unique programme answering call for ophthalmic imaging practitioners

A first-of-its-kind degree apprenticeship launched by University of Gloucestershire is answering growing industry calls for qualified technically skilled ophthalmic imaging practitioners.

The BSc (Hons) healthcare science practitioner apprenticeship (opthalmic imaging) programme has been specifically developed in partnership with the Gloucestershire Retinal Education Group (GREG) to provide ophthalmic technicians with an opportunity to gain a recognised qualification in their chosen career pathway for the first time.

The university launched the unique programme in response to increasing concerns about the national shortage of qualified ophthalmic imagers and the mounting pressures on hospital eye services, as confirmed by the Royal College of Ophthalmology, with demand expected to rise in future years.

The degree apprenticeship, which meets the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) Standards of Education and Training, is an innovatively designed distanced-blended learning programme for both apprentices and full-time students.

Helen Hobman, a student on the programme, said: "I applied for this course to be involved in something exciting and unique.

"I wanted to be involved in the first steps towards recognising the work of the ophthalmic imaging technician. Ophthalmic imaging technicians are key to the successful running of an ophthalmology unit and need to the ability to develop within the field.

"The pandemic highlighted the need for more trained and dedicated imagers to help with the future development of services."

A key aim of the programme - delivered over three years by the university's School of Health and Social Care - is to develop a sustainable ophthalmic imaging workforce to help tackle mounting industry pressures and meet increasing patient demand.

Learners will study a variety of healthcare science topics via a distance learning programme, while gaining practical experience and knowledge within their place of work.

Luke Carine, a student on the programme, said: "For me, this course provides career development and opportunities to expand within my current role."

Delivered by qualified and experienced academic staff, successful completion of the programme will enable learners to meet the AHCS Standards of Proficiency for Healthcare Science Practitioners and enter the Healthcare Science Practitioner register.

Tracy Longden-Thurgood, course lead in healthcare science within the university's School of Health and Social Care, said: "There has traditionally been no accredited training pathway for this unique staff group, with knowledge and skills learnt on the job. The existing Vision Science Practitioner Training Programme (PTP) didn't quite fit with future service need.

"Working alongside education and training experts within the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS) and the Academy for Healthcare Science, we have developed an undergraduate course that aligns fully with the principles of the traditional practitioner training routes, whilst allowing for discipline-specific flexibility.

"Completing the apprenticeship degree programme will provide graduates with the knowledge, skills and clinical behaviours needed to enable this specialist workforce to deliver high-quality patient care for years to come.

"Our initial cohort are excited to be part of this brand-new healthcare science education and training route. Already they have started to develop their applied understanding of ophthalmic anatomy and physiology, as well as build professional networks across their different ophthalmic imaging services."

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