Earlier this fall, a group of undergraduate optometry students from Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OU) in Finland attended two weeks packed full of classes, clinics and labs on the University’s Elkins Park campus.
It was an eye opening experience for the group as they not only experienced a graduate program in optometry, but they also had the opportunity to sample the United States culture.
In Finland, optometrists are licensed healthcare professionals with a Bachelor of Science degree. There are two Universities of Applied Sciences in Finland that offer the Bachelor of Science in Optometry each with a three and a half year program. Finnish optometrists are between the third and fourth category in the World Council of Optometry’s Global Competency-based Model of Scope of Optometry. The model, designated in 2005, is designed to provide a rational framework for addressing the challenges of increased practitioner mobility across international borders and the need to promote greater harmonization of optometric education around the world.
The European Council of Optometry and Optics' accreditation process includes an evaluation of each individual university’s curriculum using a competency based model. The Salus partnership provides OU optometry students a tailored learning objective-based education to supplement their curriculum during the students’ final year.
Prior to arriving, Anniina Kärkkäinen was concerned about how well she would be able to keep up and understand the lectures in English, but after starting she realized there was nothing to be concerned about.
“I think that the pace of the lectures at Salus were pretty fast,” she said. “We have had the same kind of lectures in Finland, but the pace is a bit slower and the days are not that long at our University.”
While the days may have been long, Kärkkäinen enjoyed both components - the lectures and the labs. “All of the lectures were amazing! Although my favorite was Dr. Kelly Malloy’s Neuro-Ophthalmic lectures - it went a bit further on the subject than we had studied in Finland and she explained it all so well.”
Aligned with the Salus clinical model, the students also had a chance to work with patients. “All the patients were lovely, they were friendly and very interested about us and it was nice to see how well we understood each other. There were so many interesting cases and we learned a lot from them,” Kärkkäinen said.
It wasn’t all just work and classes though. The group stayed in Center City Philadelphia so they were able to enjoy the city when they had time, including a tour of Old City in a horse and buggy. They commuted daily using public transportation and walked to campus from the Jenkintown train station - which also gave them some time to explore the quaint town.
Although she’s travelled throughout Europe, it was Kärkkäinen’s first time on U.S. soil. She gaged the cultural differences and chalked them up to a great learning experience. “The culture is very different - in Finland we are a little bit shy and reserved and we don’t do much small talk but people in America are very open and talkative,” she said. “I liked the spontaneous way people talk to you, smile and are genuinely interested about you.”
Kärkkäinen already knows that the two weeks she spent at Salus will be invaluable in her profession. “I’m sure that I have a better understanding of different eye diseases now and it will be easier to recognize them,” she said. “I hope that all the practice we had shows in our work.”