Back to School
In Jacksonville and around the globe, The Vision Care Institute
prepares students and ECPs for real-world practice.
BY JIM THOMAS , editorial director
At The Vision Care Institute, LLC (TVCI), a Johnson & Johnson Company, a fourth-year optometry student is put to the test: She must tell an elderly patient that because of his poor eyesight, he will have to relinquish his driver’s license. It’s not the kind of scenario you might expect in an educational session funded by a contact lens manufacturer, but TVCI is not the typical vendor-sponsored program. Vistakon launched TVCI in Jacksonville, Fla., in February, 2004. The company created a dedicated facility as well as state-of-the-art exam lanes and high-tech conference facilities. In its first few years, the Institute has invited the fourthyear students from North America’s 19 schools and colleges of optometry. Those who attend are often surprised to find that rather than a sales pitch, the curriculum places a great emphasis on doctor-patient interactions.
Education without selling
“The TVCI staff wanted to teach us how to become better doctors,” says Jason Sifrit, O.D., a recent graduate of the Illinois College of Optometry who now practices at the University of Florida. “They were not trying to persuade me to use their products.” Explains TVCI President Phil Keefer, “By giving the students the tools they need to become effective, successful practitioners, we believe they will better understand and meet their patients’ needs. This will result in more proactive fitting of contact lenses. Ultimately, that will benefit the category.” The students attend interactive labs and classes during the three-day program, which focuses on technical skills, decision- making, problem solving and communications. “Communications is a critical step in a successful contact lens fitting,” says Richard Clompus, O.D., the director of TVCI. “For example, you have to present contact lenses in a way that interests the patient. How do you communicate this successfully? Is it through body language, the tone of your voice or the content? eyecare professionals must understand the answers to these questions.” Communications is a “critical and often overlooked skill” in building relationships with patients, says Sue Connelly, National Contact Lens Examiner (N.C.L.E.) and a faculty member at TVCI. “Patients don’t rate you on your technical skills, they rate you on how comfortable and confident they are with you,” she explains. “And that is determined by how well you communicate and what you communicate.”
Lessons captured on video
The communications skills workshop is one of the most enlightening and unique experiences offered by TVCI, says Dr. Clompus. “Our presenters teach in communications laboratories where we videotape students as they educate patients, one-onone, on various ocular conditions,” Dr. Clompus says. “After the taping, the presenter offers a critique. The student presents again, and we always find a significant improvement the second time. We video tape both encounters, transfer them to a DVD and provide the DVD to the student as a record of the before and after experience.” The communications lab provides students with a new perspective. “The session allowed me to evaluate my ‘chairside’ manner from a patient’s vantage point,” says Albert Licup, O.D., of Great Lakes Naval Health Clinic, Great Lakes, Ill. “I left the seminar with new tools to better serve and communicate with my patients.” The video taping experience, “while at first daunting, is a great way to improve doctor-patient communications,” says Jennifer Stewart, a student at New England College of Optometry. “Students can learn so much through the sessions,” says Kelly Kerksick, O.D., a faculty member who operates a practice in Columbia, Ill. “For example, they begin to understand the power of their professional recommendation and how patients will rely on their expertise.” About 30 to 35 students attend each session, which affords students the opportunity to get acquainted with colleagues and the faculty. “The emphasis on small group exercises was definitely a plus,” says Dr. Licup. “It was great learning from colleagues at other schools in addition to the TCVI instructors.” Ms. Stewart agrees, adding that “being able to watch fellow students give an exam allowed you to incorporate skills that you found useful and see how your peers approach different situations.”
A unique curriculum
When students first arrive at TVCI, they take a behavioral communications assessment, which provides a foundation for the rest of the program. “The assessment module exposes students to their individual behavioral style and how patients will relate to them,” says presenter Gale Stoner, author of “Some Assembly Required: Seeing Your Practice Through Your Patients’ Eyes.” “The course will help them build trusting and lasting relationships.” In addition to the communications sessions, students attend technical sessions and interactive workshops on contact lenses to correct presbyopia and astigmatism. “The discussions are completely open, so it’s not unusual for the faculty and students to discuss a variety of approaches and contact lenses, including those from manufacturers other than Vistakon,” says Dr. Kerksick. After the technical sessions, the students immediately treat contact lens patients, says Dr. Clompus. It’s a valuable opportunity that’s not lost on the students. “Learning about the different lenses, trying them on myself and fitting them on patients really increased my working knowledge of contact lenses,” says Brooke Vegas, a fourth year student at the Southern College of Optometry. The program is a valuable step in the transition from student to practitioner, says Dr. Walter West, a faculty member who has assisted in various management duties at the Institute. “I think the opportunity for optometry students to attend TVCI helps them perform at a higher level much earlier in their career as a result of learning how to more efficiently apply the skills they learn in optometry school. It is much easier for them to communicate their value to patients.” TVCI also impresses students with innovation by utilizing state-of-the art-diagnostic equipment, from computerized refraction systems to retinal imaging devices and the latest audiovideo technology. “We use the technology to facilitate learning,” says Dr. Clompus. “For example, our conference rooms have three large projection screens so no one in the room has to move his chair to see a presentation.” Dr. Clompus credits much of the success of the Institute to the faculty, a dedicated staff of eyecare professionals who, on a part-time basis, fly to Jacksonville each week to teach and share their insights. “TVCI was fortunate to attract leading practitioners who are willing to share their expertise,” says Dr. Clompus. “You can see it in our faculty — they reach a point in practice where they love to give back to students.” Says Dr. West, “Once I got involved with the program, I was impressed with the opportunity and wanted to become more involved.”
From the beginning
While the TVCI model is new to eye care, “we based a lot of our ideas for TVCI on Johnson & Johnson’s Endo-Surgery Institute (ESI),” says Howard B. Purcell, O.D., the former director of TVCI and current senior director of new program development for Vistakon. ESI, a part of J&J’s Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc., has trained tens of thousands of surgeons, nurses and healthcare professionals around the world in minimally invasive and open surgical procedures. From the start, TVCI was careful to position its curriculum. “We went out to the schools to show them what we planned, and they were very supportive,” Dr. Purcell says. “We all understand that the optometry schools have so much to teach, and four years isn’t a lot of time. TVCI doesn’t compete with the schools. We hope that the realworld scenarios presented at TVCI sharpen the student’s technical and communications skills. That benefits these new eyecare professionals and ultimately provides better care for the patient.”
Expansion around the globe
Recognizing the value of the Institute’s program, Vistakon expanded TVCI in the late summer of 2005. The expansion included four conference rooms and the 105-seat Sullins Training Theatre, named after the late past president of the AOA and Navy Rear Admiral W. David Sullins, O.D. The facility is equipped with a large projection screen, which is linked to TVCI’s six examination rooms, allowing a large group of students to observe faculty in exam room situations. The theatre also allows for distance learning by satellite transmission. Vision Care Institutes were also launched in Seoul, Korea and Taipei, Taiwan.
This wave was later followed by locations in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Prague, the Czech Republic, Tokyo, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. Each program emphasizes technical skills and communications, yet “each has its own curriculum based on local needs,” says Mr. Keefer. “In Korea, eyecare professionals receive little contact lens education,” he says. “So that we’re certain they will fit lenses properly, we do not provide them with a diagnostic set of Acuvue Advance for Astigmatism lenses until they gain experience with the lenses through the Institute’s program, which is accredited.”
At all locations, the TVCI curriculum continues to evolve. “In Jacksonville, we recently began a short course on delegation because many students don’t get the opportunity to work with technicians and assistants . . .” says Dr. Clompus. “This is information graduates will need because many will work with staff who can help them become more efficient.” TVCI is also considering other lines of expansion. “We’re looking at a program for optometrists,” says Dr. Clompus. “Maybe their needs are in delegation, growing a practice or communications. Derrick Artis, O.D., the director of customer development at Vistakon, is looking at how we would develop such a program.” TVCI is also investigating video distance learning opportunities. “It would be nice to have a new optometrist, an O.D. with less than five years experience, another with 10 to 15 years experience and a practitioner at a contact lens specialty practice all talk to the students,” he says. “Each could come into TVCI through a video feed . . .”
To optometry and beyond
Since its launch in 2004, 10,000 eyecare professionals have attended the global program, most through TVCI’s international expansion. (The Jacksonville facility, which pays for students’ transportation, meals and hotel rooms, has hosted about 2,500 students.) Mr. Keefer says that globally, TVCI plans to educate another 10,000 eyecare professionals in 2007. Such numbers “reflect the value of the Institute’s unique curriculum,” says Dr. Clompus. “The real-world, hands-on experience is something that I think everyone could use,” says Ms. Vegas.
Optometric Management, Issue: March 2007