Gone are the days of Helene Kaiser, OD ‘89, associate professor, bringing her video camera to her Clinical Skills course to ensure she could capture her lecture for the students who missed class or simply wanted to review what they learned. Prior to July 2017, performing ophthalmoscopy on each other was the only way for students to practice retinal examinations.
Today, technology reigns in the newly renovated Optometric Clinical Procedures Lab and adjacent Virtual Reality Simulation Lab. Sleek, gleaming display monitors and model patient heads are the first sight upon entering the Simulation Lab, while the Clinical Procedures Lab is most likely brimming with students testing and honing their examination techniques, using some of the most updated equipment available.
Both labs and recent renovations are part of the University’s five-year Strategic Plan, which focuses on offering “facilities and technology that provide the appropriate infrastructure to promote state-of-the-art education and clinical programs” in addition to “investing in technologies, teaching methodologies, and evidence-based standards and practices that foster excellence in education, clinical and business processes.”
“At Salus, we are committed to educating our students to the best of our abilities, which includes providing the latest technology and clinical training available,” said Michael H. Mittelman, OD ’80, MPH, FAAO, FACHE, University president. “Students are using state-of-the- art equipment to help them perfect the clinical skills needed to be top-quality healthcare providers as they excel in their graduate studies and professional practices.”
To accomplish these bold facilities upgrades, a committee was created to evaluate the specific needs of the new optometry labs and to assess what technology was required to keep pace with the rapidly changing scope of the profession. Rachel Brackley, OD ‘09, Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) assistant professor, served as the committee leader. She was joined by fellow PCO faculty members, Helene Kaiser, OD ‘89, Jamie Neiman, OD ‘01, Jean Marie Pagani, OD ‘87, Bhawan Minhas, OD, Holly Myers, OD ‘86, PCO dean Melissa Trego, OD ‘04, and the University’s chief of staff Brian Zuckerman. The goals for the space were two-fold: design an efficient and robust area for students practicing their clinical skills and ensure students have adequate access to the latest technology for training. After extensive research and planning, which included traveling to other optometry schools to see their updated labs, meeting with architects and discussing equipment and layout needs, the project officially began in January 2017. The 8,000-square-foot renovation project was completed for the start of the academic year in May 2017.
Optometric Clinical Procedures Lab
Featuring state-of-the-art ophthalmic equipment, the lab consists of 34 newly renovated practice bays — 32 for student use and two for instructional use. Each practice bay has the same style of slit lamp that the University’s clinical practice, The Eye Institute (TEI), has. Additionally, each has a teaching tube for instructors to view the students’ work.
Video monitors are strategically mounted throughout the teaching lab. Video cameras can provide a live broadcast of an instructor’s demonstration and recording allows students to view each lesson at a later time if needed. Computers at each bay have electronic medical record software installed, making the transition to patient care and to clinical externships seamless. The lab’s layout also allows for collaborative instruction during certain lessons. One side of the room may be working with Dr. Neiman on the proper technique to apply a pressure patch, while Dr. Brackley may be leading another group in a different clinical activity. There is also a small 10-bay auxiliary lab, located adjacent to the Clinical Procedures Lab, which serves as a practice space for students or a teaching lab for international students who are periodically on campus.
After more than two years of planning and five months of construction, equipment delivery and assembly, Dr. Brackley is thrilled to see the renovation come to fruition.
“We began this project in February of 2015, and it is very exciting to see the results of the committee’s time and effort,” she said. “It has been very rewarding to work with the students in the lab and see their enthusiasm about the new equipment and space.”
Virtual Reality Simulation Lab
The Virtual Reality Simulation Lab brings some of the latest technology to Salus using VRmagic software and equipment. Virtual reality technology is an innovative teaching tool that provides an opportunity for students to replicate the patient experience and refine their clinical skills in the absence of an actual patient. The VRmagic software produces a highly realistic, three-dimensional experience for students so they can accumulate more training time. There are eight stations for indirect ophthalmoscopy and four for direct ophthalmoscopy. Each station is equipped with a touch-screen monitor, a model patient head, and the tools needed for either direct or indirect ophthalmoscopy. The indirect ophthalmoscopy stations include a wearable headset with a display monitor. The lab also has the capability of having the simulator projected for group learning, further enhancing the students’ understanding of the cases and concepts being reviewed.
The VRmagic software has various modules that users can select from to test a variety of skills such as properly using an indirect or direct ophthalmoscope, finding shapes on the retina, examining objects found on a retinal map, locating and identifying retinal pathologies, and using a case-study format to examine a model patient. If students want to practice their ability to identify certain retinal pathologies, they do not have to wait until they see a patient at TEI or simply view it in a textbook. They can select a particular module, adjust their ophthalmoscope, and view a virtual eye with diabetic retinopathy or age-related macular degeneration. The software also provides immediate feedback about whether or not the student is performing the examination correctly.
The ability to view certain eye conditions and practice skills repeatedly — without your partner’s eye becoming tired — allow certain techniques to be introduced earlier to students. Students are introduced to the virtual reality lab during their first year, with simulation training continuing throughout the second year. After having in-person patient experiences at TEI, the lab allows students in their third and fourth year to further enhance their understanding of disease processes.
“We will introduce the skills of direct ophthalmoscopy and indirect ophthalmoscopy earlier in the curriculum,” Dr. Brackley said. “It will allow students to work on these skills at their own pace. These skills can be difficult to learn and our hope is that when students move to examining patients, they will master the techniques more quickly.”
A hallmark of a Salus education is early and sustained clinical experiences. As a result, PCO students enter TEI during their first week on campus. The new renovation projects allow the University to continue its legacy of early, comprehensive clinical exposure, according to Dr. Kaiser.
“Our students are in the clinic doing exams in the spring of their second year. Some schools wait until the fall of their third year for them to start performing exams,” she said. “Because we have a shortened timeline, we’re hoping that all this new technology will help cement the students’ clinical skills as they transition to seeing patients in the clinic.”
Lab photos courtesy of Flatiron Building Company.