During the fourth professional year, each student is assigned to two externships. One of these must be at a clinic or site that specializes in ocular disease. The second site may be another "disease" site, or can be in any other chosen area of study. The assignment process is done primarily by student choice, based upon their rank order within their class. Didactic GPA as well as clinical performance, the latter being relatively heavily weighted, determine the rank. The students who fall at the bottom of the class are given special consideration -- their specific weaknesses are identified and sites are chosen that most closely match the students' educational needs. The site selection process is usually completed during November of the students' third year.
How are sites chosen?
For a new site application packet go to application form. After completed applications are received in our office, they are reviewed by a five-member externship committee, chaired by the Director of Externships. The site's educational curriculum, facilities, patient base, etc. are considered, as well as the qualifications of the site director. Our present minimum requirements for a site director include:
Successful completion of a post-graduate residency program in optometry OR clinical eqiuivalent* PLUS
A minimum of 3 years experience in an appropriate clinical patient care setting. This second requirement can be waived, upon committee approval on a case-by-case basis, PROVIDED THAT another more experienced eye care practitioner is available on site on a full-time basis for consultative purposes (e.g., an experienced ophthalmologist or optometrist who does not function as the academic site director, but is on-site for patient care supervision when necessary)
Absence of outstanding judgments regarding clinical care against proposed site director
Satisfactory references from colleagues and supervisors
Students' needs and priorities may change over time, but we try to consider new sites based upon demand by the students. Priority is currently assigned to sites that are private practice/primary eye care based, as well as more remote sites that offer low- or no-cost housing to students during their rotation. We also have a number of students from the western U.S., so we have tried to expand the number of positions in that regional area to encourage students to wish to move out of the state of Florida following graduation to gain experience outside of our immediate area.
If a site is approved, is a guarantee of students' placement implied?
No. We do not guarantee student placement at any of our sites, particularly those that are remote from our area (primarily due to financial considerations). We have more sites than we have students, so there will always be "gaps" at our sites. Sites are likewise not required to pledge exclusively to Nova Southeastern University, College of Optometry -- we try, where possible, to facilitate communication with other colleges and schools of optometry so that our sites can share their experience with students enrolled in other programs.
How can a site become "more popular" with the students?
Currently, we have a number of sites that "sell out" very quickly, to the very top students in the class. These sites are predominantly places where the site director takes a very active role in the students' education, and where the reputation of the site is that the students don't always do "tech work." Students are aware that there is some support work required at nearly every site. However, the most popular sites have a strong didactic program (slide reviews, journal clubs, board reviews, etc.) and a strong component for independent clinical care (start to finish patient exams with supervision and double-checking of results by attending OD or MD, rather than just "working patients up to dilation"). Private practice sites are also very popular, where students expect to learn optometric patient care as well as some practice management strategies. Finally, sites that attend our annual open house in the fall tend to get better responses than sites that do not. Students like to talk to potential site directors face-to-face before picking an "unknown" site.
What are the responsibilities of the site and site director?
Each site must have a qualified site director who is in charge of the students' education. We need a current, active email address to which we can send correspondence. Fair, unbiased grades are required at midterm and at the end of each quarter, and can be faxed to the Director of Externships. Attendance at the open house is strongly encouraged. Didactic activities are expected. Cooperation with the college on matters of school schedules, board exams, etc. is a must. Finally, a memorandum of affiliation is required and protects both the site and the college against miscommunication.