Optometry – The first profession to cross finish line since COVID-19 Outbreak

136 Doctors of Optometry Grads First to Complete Their Clinical Exam in Person

October 1, 2020 – Since the lockdown due to COVID-19 in March, the 25+ health professions in Canada have all struggled to provide graduates with their qualifying exams until they could be safely administered.

The Optometry Examining Board of Canada is the first in the country to execute the clinical portion of its examination.

“The five-month deferral of the exam caused by COVID-19 created tremendous anxiety for our candidates,” said Dr. Jonathan Arnel, the Board’s Chief Examiner since 2006. “While other examining boards in the health professions around the world struggled to find a path forward, our team did it!”

The Board offers a common qualifying exam on behalf of provincial regulators of the optometry profession.

“Our use of optometric models and our innovative approach using the principle of small groups and physical distancing enabled us to safely administer the exam to 136 candidates from across Canada and the US with the help of 28 optometrists as examiners, and 36 actors trained as standardized patients,” said Kim Allen, the Board’s new CEO.

The approach required four times the amount of space it usually would for the written exam and twice the area it would typically use for the clinical exam.  The exam was delivered over the course of two days rather than one.

Written Exam – September 24, 2020

The clinical assessment took place on September 26th and 27th in Hamilton at the David Braley Health Sciences Centre, McMaster University. The in-person eight-hour written exam took place two days earlier at the Sheraton Hotel in Hamilton. Together, these exams assess the competencies that are necessary to practise optometry safely and effectively in Canada.

“It was quite an operation for our exam team and collaborators.  Simulated Client Services, based in Montreal, provided their expertise to coordinate the standardized patients, the track staff, as well as to offer logistical support. The David Braley team, the staff at the Sheraton Hamilton, and Select Sandwich catering from Burlington also contributed to making this a success,” said Allen.

The exams were administered while respecting COVID19 disinfection and physical distancing protocols. Personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves were used throughout the exam as they are currently being used by optometrists in practice.

“I was very impressed that the entire exam team of volunteers and staff were able to adapt to this new and challenging environment. We knew that the candidates were experiencing an unusually high level of stress but pulled it off none the less,” said Dr. Geneviève Raby, Chief Examiner.

The exams assess the overall knowledge, skills and behaviours required of a professional optometrist to ensure safe and effective patient care in Canada. They incorporate the unique cultural and systemic features of the Canadian health system.

Offering the exam in the US

To reduce travel during COVID-19 as well as the need for individuals to self-isolate, the Optometry Examining Board of Canada will be offering the November in-person written exam in Waterloo, Montreal, Calgary, and for the first time, in the United States. Approximately a third of the Canadian students graduating with an accredited Doctor of Optometry degree are currently educated in the United States. The Board is piloting its “testing pods” innovation at three locations in the United States this Fall and hopes to expand it to the 15+ optometry schools attended by Canadian students in the US.

About the Optometry Examining Board of Canada

Founded in 1995, the Optometry Examining Board of Canada develops and administers a common examination on behalf of the provincial optometric regulatory bodies — its members.  The organization delivers a psychometrically valid and defensible assessment to demonstrate entry-to-practice competence in optometry in Canada. Its bilingual examinations are developed and administrated by the profession and for the profession. OEBC.CA