Article Date: 4/1/2004

profile in education
COLLEGE PROFILE: Southern College of Optometry

BY RENÉ LUTHE, Senior Associate Editor

Southern College of Optometry (SCO) was founded in 1932 with the modestly stated goal of educating men and women in the art and science of optometry. Seventy-one years later, SCO now offers 104 externship sites throughout the United States, 15 residency programs and its own on-campus eyecare facility that sees more than 60,000 patients each year. Another measure of its success is that SCO has enjoyed the largest or second largest applicant pool of all U.S. schools of optometry for the past several years, says Vice President of Clinical Programs, Frank T. Gibson, O.D.

SCO believes that the key to its success is the outstanding clinical education it provides. And it has recently launched two "immense" projects intended to take its education of tomorrow's optometrists even further.

Presenting The Eye Center

With the goals of supporting a greater number of patient encounters and fostering a more intense teacher-student relationship, SCO opened The Eye Center in the fall of 2002. The 55,000-square foot patient care and clinical teaching facility provides a "real world" healthcare practice environment, Dr. Gibson says. Optometrists in the center work with four patients and four interns at a time.

According to Dr. Gibson, the model enables instructors to provide effective "real-time" guidance to interns as they participate in patient care and to communicate effectively with each patient. Teaching interns to manage the patient experience in a positive manner is important at SCO, Dr. Gibson explains.

Work in two settings

In addition to work at the Eye Center, SCO students serve two quarter-length externship rotations at sites throughout the United States. In the private-practice setting externship, students experience hands-on participation in everyday optometric duties: primary care, low vision, contact lenses and medical and surgical comanagement. Exposure to practice management is particularly important because approximately 57% of SCO students hang out their own shingles after they graduate.

The institutional-setting externship was created to expose students to a higher volume of patients and to more complicated ocular disease. Students apply the skills learned at SCO on a large volume of patients while under the direct supervision of an adjunct faculty member.

Preparing 21st century O.D.s

SCO's second project is an ongoing 2003 to 2008 Strategic Plan. The extensive review examines both curriculum content and curriculum delivery methods to ascertain which ones show the best results. "The educational goals of this institution have always been to ensure that the SCO graduate has the knowledge to meet all of a patient's visual needs in addition to any ocular concerns," says Gibson. The Strategic Plan helps identify the "teaching methods that result in student behaviors and abilities likely to encourage and enhance the desire and capacity to continuously add to their skills."

SCO has created a Department of Assessment solely to measure institutional outcomes and provide feedback so that improvement may be pursued continuously. One of the results is immersing students into more direct optometric experiences during their first year; this includes small-group and case-based learning and exposure to innovative uses of recent technology. Another is that the college is increasingly integrating ethics and practice management into the curriculum.


The Southern College of Optometry

LOCATION: Memphis, Tenn.

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





DID YOU KNOW? According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry's Optometric Education (Summer 2003), SCO's curriculum features the highest total number of hours devoted to managed care.

Ahead of the pack

SCO is proud to tell you that its decision to require practice management courses of its students preceded the optometric community's consensus that new O.D.s were unprepared in this area. Students take two quarters of instruction during their third year, provided by a successful private practice practitioner. "This provides a solid platform from which they can launch their practices," Dr. Gibson says.

He adds that the Eye Center also provides a model of healthcare delivery that students can emulate later. Finally, a generous alumnus recently made a substantial contribution to enhance practice management education at SCO. Details will be forthcoming.

Accept the inevitable

Recognizing the omnipresence of managed care in contemporary American health care, SCO requires students to enroll in courses devoted to it as early as the first year. Students learn how to assess various programs and also receive instruction in practical matters such as documentation, coding, billing, utilization review, quality assessment and privacy laws. According to Optometric Education's survey of managed care education at optometry schools (Summer 2003), SCO has the highest number of hours devoted to managed care topics.

Paying for your future

SCO also helps its students prepare for the price tag of an optometric education. As part of an extensive program on the responsible acquisition and repayment of debt, financial aid counselors help each student create a budget and regularly conduct debt management workshops. Before a student borrows additional funds, counselors provide a worksheet indicating how the loan would affect the student's repayment schedule. Additionally, the college says that it "aggressively" monitors lenders, recommending only those that charge 0% origination and guarantee fees.

This sound financial planning, plus SCO's strong clinical education, gives its graduates "the confidence to pursue any type of practice opportunity," says Dr. Gibson.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2004