Externships create a positive learning opportunity

September 1, 2010

Many optometry practices serve as externship sites, offering optometry students real-world experience.

Alexandra Espejo, OD, FAAO, is the director of externship programs at Nova Southeastern University (NOVA) College of Optometry in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Each year, Dr. Espejo places roughly 100 students in extern positions, which typically last several months.

Responsibility and accountability

The bulk of an extern's responsibilities must involve hands-on patient care, she said. Dr. Espejo explained that externs need to examine patients, participate in their diagnosis, and develop their management plan.

Other extern responsibilities can include:

Depending on student interest, optometrists can also focus on practice management techniques or effective ways to build, grow, and maintain a practice.

It's also helpful when practices include specialty areas in their profile, such as pediatrics or sports vision. Some don't. But doing so, Dr. Espejo explained, makes it easier for students to choose an externship site that best matches their interest or needs.

Laying groundwork

On the first day externs arrive at the Eye Center in Pembroke Pines, FL, Lan Nguyen, OD, asks each extern one key question: What are your expectations?

All externs are not created equal. Some want to focus on disease management while others want to learn about practice growth strategies, effective marketing techniques, or best practices for managing employees.

As the practice's extern director, Dr. Nguyen listens carefully so she can design training that offers each student a positive learning experience. But, this is just the first step.

All externs must complete an orientation program that can last anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks, added Dr. Nguyen, who also serves as a part-time clinical instructor at NOVA.

"Externs learn about our patient flow because we have multiple exam rooms," she said, adding that her practice supports five optometrists and an ophthalmologist. "We also introduce them to our equipment, electronic systems, and paperwork procedures."