Graduates' perceptions of an undergraduate optometry program at a tertiary institution : a qualitative study.
The aim of this study is to explore the views of recent optometry graduates, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, towards the professional education and training program they had experienced. The optometry program aims to produce graduates who are equipped with the necessary knowledge and clinical skills to contribute to the health care needs of society within the field of eye care (Discipline of optometry, 2005). Within this program, individual modules are evaluated biannually by registered students. Thus far, there has been no attempt to explore the views of graduates once they have entered professional practice. Previous studies involving optometry students and graduates focused more on expectations and perceptions of the profession with little emphasis on perceptions of their education and training experiences in preparing them for professional practice. This study is an attempt to find out the relevance of the educational program in preparing graduates for professional practice. In addition, graduates are asked to make recommendations for ways in which the educational program can be strengthened to assist novice professionals to meet the demands of professional practice. This study involved the graduating class of 2009 presently working in professional practice. Of all participants who were willing to participate in the study, 8 were selected using purposive sampling. Semi-structured interviews are used to explore graduates‟ perceptions of their undergraduate educational experiences as preparation for professional practice and their recommendations for strengthening the program to provide for the needs of novice professionals. These interviews are conducted individually and last between 35 and 72 minutes. They are analysed qualitatively using the conceptual framework of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) in which learning is considered as a four-fold concept: learning as (1) engaging in practice, (2) belonging to a community, (3) interrogating the meanings of experiences, (4) becoming and thus creating an identity. The findings reveal that in general graduates find the content of their professional education and training program to be relevant to their preparation for professional practice and were able to make suggestions for improvement. They were particularly satisfied with their clinical experiences as it allows them to engage with, gain exposure and develop professional identities. Additionally participants value these experiences for the development of other work related skills such as communication, time management, team work and problem solving. Recommendations for strengthening the optometry program are made in light of the proposed program restructuring.