UTS offers a new vision for orthoptics education

Picture by Anna Zhu

Picture by Anna Zhu

In summary: 
  • Celebrating a year since its launch, UTS Orthoptics has garnered strong industry support for its shift to a highly practice-based collaborative teaching model
  • One of only two orthoptics programs offered in the Asia-Pacific Region, UTS graduates are highly anticipated with a shortage of skilled clinicians in Australia

There's a great demand for orthoptists in Australia, particularly due to an aging population and the rise in eye conditions that are associated with age. Eye disorders and diseases are on an upward trend and therefore so is the need for eye diagnosis and management.

Some of that demand will be met over the following year as graduates from the ground-breaking UTS Master of Orthoptics complete their studies.

One of only two orthoptics programs offered in the Asia-Pacific Region, the UTS Graduate School of Health-based program is leading the modernisation of orthoptics education. 

Moving away from inductive instructional teaching to a workshop model, the course has been designed to be delivered through a highly practice-based collaborative approach.

"We challenge their way of thinking and problem solving and try to get them to remove their blinkers to think laterally and with clinical reasoning," said Associate Lecturer Mara Giribaldi.

Orthoptics students Anita Dangi, Melissa Skeen and Jessica Mihalic with a synoptophore: an instrument used for diagnosing imbalance of eye muscles. Picture supplied Orthoptics students Anita Dangi, Melissa Skeen and Jessica Mihalic with a synoptophore: an instrument used for diagnosing imbalance of eye muscles. Picture supplied

"Getting students to research or get involved in group work to disseminate information about a particular topic in a workshop is very powerful," she said. "The method of teaching coupled with hands-on clinical practical sessions works very well here and actually cements students' learning."

While most Australians have limited experience with orthoptists, they are becoming a necessity in dealing with an increase in the prevalence of conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and vision problems associated with stroke. 

They continue to lead in the detection and management of conditions such as strabismus (squint) and amblyopia (lazy eye) in childhood, which if untreated can increase the risk of visual impairment in older age.

"What has become apparent over the past year is the positive recognition from industry and colleagues alike who have commented on the way UTS Orthoptics teaches and delivers high-calibre students," Giribaldi said.

"We have increased our collaboration significantly with the industries that we have close ties with and also are developing new ones, which is really quite exciting."  

Research and postgraduate education is uniquely integrated within the discipline, in areas such as myopia and strabismus. This has been augmented with the appointment of Dr Motjaba Golzan specialising in glaucoma research.

Student Premkumar Gunasekaran, who is the president of the UTS Student Orthoptics Society, said the practice-based nature of the course was a great strength.

"We are placed at so many different clinical sites and it gives us a better advantage overall," he said. "We start placement in session two of first year and already I've been to three different sites. I have another five I will go to, which include private and public settings and hospitals. Next session, we have either international or rural placement."

Professor Kathryn Rose, head of UTS Orthoptics, said, "We are producing clinicians who are caring and patient focused.  Our aim is to ensure our graduates follow best patient practice and get the best patient outcomes."