Article Date: 7/1/2003

profile in education
COLLEGE PROFILE: The Illinois College of Optometry
BY JIM THOMAS, Executive Editor

In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant ran against New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley. Kimberly, Clark & Company was established in Neenah, Wis. In that same year, the Illinois College of Optometry (ICO), the oldest continually operating educational facility dedicated solely to optometrists, was founded as the Needles Institute.

Today, ICO operates the Illinois Eye Institute and provides more than 70,000 eyecare visits annually on its main campus. And while ICO possesses a proud heritage, the college appears squarely focused on preparing today's students for a life-long career in the field of optometry. College President Arol Augsburger, O.D., speaks of the school's strategic planning as "ongoing, not static" -- a process that must continually answer the question, 'How do we get to where we need to go?'

Planning in action

One example of this planning is the school's relationship with University of Chicago's Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science.

Dr. Augsburger

"We identified an educational and patient care model that could best train O.D.s and M.D.s," says Dr. Augsburger.

To address the issue of a busy surgery schedule at the university, the schools agreed to build an ambulatory surgery and treatment center on the ICO campus, which would provide all outpatient services. According to Dr. Augsburger, the center will free up time for surgery at the university, generate revenue for ICO, and provide a "real world" patient care model where optometrists and ophthalmologists work together at the same location.

The strategic planning process guides ICO even through difficult decisions. ICO recently decided to reduce class size from 175 students to 154 students -- an interesting turn for a private college that is heavily dependent on revenues from tuition.

"There was some pain and angst in making this decision," says Dr. Augsburger. "But we looked at student experiences in patient care, including therapeutics and vision enhancement, and we realized that we had to get these experiences to a more manageable number. The reduction will also allow us to better manage our external sites and to provide a better balance and quality of education."

The practice management story

Critical to the educational balance is training in the business aspects of optometry. ICO requires students to take a course in practice management, which is taught by a series of speakers all involved in private practice. In addition, ICO offers four elective courses that cover such areas as launching a private practice, private practice clerkship, coding and billing, and planning and managing debt.

All ICO students receive training in the practice management aspects of profit centers such as dispensing; contact lenses; refractive surgery; co-management; visual therapy and treatment; and managing ocular disease. According to the college's administration, the amount of time invested in each area is relative to entry-level practice requirements.

ICO recognizes that business administration skills are critical to the success of a private practice. In addition to the business-related courses, ICO provides students with a variety of resources, including:

Ten years ago, the college established a private practice club that sponsors guest speakers who discuss opportunities, challenges and solutions in private practice. The club pays careful attention to the "real nuts and bolts" details that make practices financially successful, says Dr. Augsburger.

"It's great to be familiar with finance and debt management," he says. "It minimizes the lessons from the school of hard knocks."

An evolving curriculum

Changes in the field have led to changes in ICO's curriculum, which are continuously addressed through the strategic planning process. The college has expanded curricula in the areas of coding, billing, reimbursement and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements.

The core curriculum includes:

Each of these areas includes patient care exposure, which Dr. Augsburger says is critical to education. "An education program needs sound and fundamental academic work," he says. "But with a patient care model, showing is better than telling. It's where we can share our enthusiasm and generate real interest."

ICO will increase the use of technology in both teaching and in patient care delivery, and will also build its curriculum around an "entry to practice" model.

Beyond the ivory tower

Most grads enter practice while paying off sizeable student loans. ICO students must manage an average debt level of $178,000, including debt from undergraduate studies. ICO helps students control debt with such resources as debt management counseling, a tuition freeze for four years, increased work study availability and pay scale, and increased scholarship funding to more than $500,000 (although the demand for student scholarships far exceeds this amount).

One of the fundamental benchmarks of effectiveness for any educational institution is the success of its graduates. An ICO survey of graduates over the past five years shows the following breakdown in practice settings:

When ICO interviewed grads about future plans after graduation in 2002, almost half said that they had a private or group practice plan already lined up. Also, more than 55% of the grads said that ICO helped get them into or interested in private or group practice through such resources as a placement program, symposium or alumni networking.

Though pleased with these results, Dr. Augsburger is quick to add, "Even good programs like ours must not rest on their laurels. It's incumbent to be stewards of the money that is invested with us."


FAST FACTS: The Illinois College of Optometry

LOCATION: Chicago, Ill.

PROGRAM: four-year, graduate-level for the doctor of optometry degree.

AFFILIATIONS: University of Chicago Department of Vision Sciences and Department of Pediatrics; and various local and national not-for-profit and educational organizations.





DID YOU KNOW? ICO operates the Illinois Eye Institute and boasts the largest alumni and alumnae association in the world.




Optometric Management, Issue: July 2003