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With the COVID-19 Crisis, AAO and ASCO Establish Unprecedented Virtual Clinical Training Program to Keep Optometry Students on Graduation Track

With COVID-19 leaving students unable to see patients in person, the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) is establishing an unprecedented virtual clinical education program to assist with case-based learning for optometry students and keep them on a path to graduation.

The Academy and its board members are working with the Associations of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) and the deans and faculty of optometric schools and colleges to develop an online experience that will help enhance students’ clinical education.


As part of their clinical curriculum, optometry students typically see patients in clinics, practices, hospitals and VA settings to gain first-hand patient experience. But in the current environment, many are unable to continue direct patient care. The new program is called the Student Online Clinical Case Education Program (SOCCEP). It will immediately provide several weeks of live streamed and/or recorded experiences. Each of these is approximately 30 minutes long, and a faculty or industry presenter will deliver a case study. Students will then have an opportunity to ask questions before the lecturer delivers a patient outcome at the end of the session.

barbara cafferyAcademy Board President Barbara Caffery, OD, PhD, FAAO, said, “This is a direct and rapid response to the coronavirus crisis. Once our Academy Fellows in universities identified the clinical issue, we knew we were the only organization with the membership and reach to quickly pull together the resources they needed.”


The program was designed to help fourth-year students build on their clinical experience, but it can be used as a supplemental and continuing education program. The organizers hope it will also help maintain the pipeline of new optometrists and optometry residents, crucial to providing urgent and emergent care during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as service to patients with the pent-up demand that will follow when the crisis ends. Academy Chief Executive Officer Peter Scott said, “As a leading optometric association, we’re in a unique position to bring together partners from the academic world to make this happen. This is not a time to hold back.”

The SOCCEP program is unprecedented in the Academy’s nearly 100-year history, but it is aligned with the organization’s new strategic plan that actively seeks deeper engagement with members.

“We are committed to advancing excellence in eye care, and, in this time of urgency, that commitment is even more important,” said Dr. Caffery. “The Academy is so much more than a meeting. We have the ability to make a positive impact in the daily lives of students, optometrists and the public, and this is the first of our many initiatives that will provide exceptional education, support innovative research and disseminate knowledge to advance optometric practice and improve patient care.”

elizabeth hoppeElizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, President of the Associations of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) and Founding Dean, Western University of Health Sciences, College of Optometry, concurs. “During these trying times, ASCO member institutions must continue the education of their students. Faculty members at ASCO institutions have really stepped up to the challenge and will continue to lead these online clinical education sessions for the foreseeable future.”

Read more about the Student Online Clinical Case Education Program at the AAO website or the ASCO website.

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