Optometry students' experiences of their clinical learning environment at Mulago National Referral Hospital
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Introduction: Globally, the optometry degree programme curriculum includes a combination of both theoretical and clinical modules. The optometric skills required by graduates are achieved by students’ exposure and involvement in clinical training in eye clinics under the supervision given by experienced eye care professionals. Students receive clinical training during the last year of their curriculum. The close collaborative relationship between Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MakCHS) and Mulago National Referral Hospital (MNRH) allows MakCHS optometry students to complete their clinical rotations at MNRH. Studies on clinical learning environments in health professions education (HPE) have concentrated on medical and nursing clinical training leaving a scarcity in optometry education. The purpose of the study was to explore the optometry students’ experiences of the clinical learning environment (CLE) at MNRH. Methods: This was an exploratory qualitative study involving 4th year Optometry students of Makerere University. Data was collected using face-to-face in-depth interviews with 16 studentsbetween April 2023 and May 2023. Purposive sampling was used to recruit the participants. Data was audio-recorded and later transcribed verbatim using an online speech to text converter to generate transcripts. Data was then analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. Results: 7 females and 9 males, with the majority aged between 21 to 25 years participated in the study. Three themes emerged out the study: 1) the teaching and learning process in the CLE at the eye clinic of MNRH, 2) organization of the CLE at the eye clinic of MNRH, and 3) support system in the CLE at the eye clinic of MNRH. The study found out that supportive environment, positive patient interactions, exposure to a variety of cases, and hands-on practice opportunities facilitated students’ learning. On the other hand, it was found out that limited scope of practice, negative attitudes from healthcare workers, limited space, and language barrier hindered the learning process for optometry students. Conclusions: The CLE at the eye clinic of MNRH provided a positive and enriching learning experience for the optometry students. The CLE created support through systems of experienced supervisors and fellow students who provided guidance, expertise, and feedback. The reported anxiety and nervousness which fades out with time is common among students entering an unfamiliar environment. In order to further enhance the CLE at the eye clinic of MNRH, it is recommended to expand the scope of practice of optometry students beyond refraction, and to brief health workers within MNRH on the role of optometry students in the eye clinic.
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