PIKEVILLE — The 22nd school in the nation and the first in Kentucky, the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO) has entered a new phase and will begin recruiting its inaugural class for the fall of 2016.
The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) voted to grant the Kentucky College of Optometry the pre-accreditation classification of “Preliminary Approval.” The notification was received Nov. 13 in a letter from ACOE Chairman J. Bart Campbell, O.D.
“The classification of ‘Preliminary Approval’ is granted to a professional optometric degree program that has clearly demonstrated it is developing in accordance with council standards,” wrote Campbell. “The program has approval to begin student recruitment, selection and admissions, and to begin offering the program.”
An ACOE evaluation team visited the university Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2015. As part of the process, the ACOE will review the preliminary approval classification annually during the first three academic years of the program, including progress reports and/or site visits. A request for final accreditation status will be made by the university not less than 12 months prior to graduation of the program’s first class.
Sixty students will be admitted per class for a total of 240. With no other colleges of optometry in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia, KYCO will be the most accessible college of optometry in the Southeastern portion of the country.
“We are the first school to receive such recognition under the new, more stringent accreditation standards, and in a record time of one year and three months from the time we initiated our self-study,” said Founding Dean, Andrew Buzzelli, O.D., M.S. “It is because of the profusely talented UPIKE employees that we will be working toward complying with all of the standards for final accreditation, which will be considered after graduation of our first class.”
In 2014, the university announced the Kentucky College of Optometry, the next step in transforming the culture and health care of the region through access and education. A continuation of the university’s strategic focus on health sciences, the college of osteopathic medicine, the school of nursing and the college of optometry will serve as an integrated health care model for rural medicine.
Central Appalachia is a region that has the highest incidences of severe vision loss from other factors such as diabetes and hypertension. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on the U.S. counties with the highest prevalence of severe vision loss, the majority of which were located in the south. Overall, about three percent of people had severe vision loss. The highest rate amongst all American regions was Owsley County, located in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, at more than 18 percent.
“Our Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine has provided a successful blueprint and the experience to build a sustainable model for rural health care education,” said Paul Patton, the university’s chancellor and interim president. “National statistics demonstrate the need for quality, affordable vision care in rural areas. Our objective is to provide access and education to the people of the mountains and to address a critical health care need in our region and throughout the nation. We expect that the college of optometry will be nationally renowned as a premier college for teaching and research.”
The expanded scope of practice permitted by Kentucky state law governing the practice of optometry provides for selective laser and peri-ocular surgical procedures, allowing the Kentucky College of Optometry to bring modes of treatment not previously obtainable on a significant basis in un-served and underserved areas. The approach to clinical care will also be unique. The college of optometry is partnering with local federally qualified health care centers and hospitals to create a new patient-centered model for the education of eye care providers and creating access to vision care for the citizens of Appalachia.
Buzzelli noted that the past year has been spent developing curriculum, a clinical patient base and faculty and facilities that would satisfy the standards developed by the ACOE to insure that optometric schools and colleges provide cutting edge education to their students and clinical care to their patients. “A new curriculum was developed to address the expanded scope of optometric practice in Kentucky. In addition to an already rigorous optometric curriculum, the college has created diagnostic and treatment courses which would see that our graduates are skilled in specific surgical and laser surgical procedures as defined by the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners,” said Buzzelli. “Our modern, cutting edge vision care facility needed to be equipped with the finest ophthalmic instruments under the expert guidance of faculty members skilled and licensed in these optometric treatments.”
“The Kentucky College of Optometry will welcome its inaugural class in 2016, pioneers in the birthplace of rural optometry who will have an opportunity to make a real and lasting impact,” continued Buzzelli. “As practitioners of the healing arts, the mission is to define the standard for excellence in optometric education and vision care. This inaugural class will be a part of our great undertaking, called by many a vision of hope.”
In the coming days, the college’s recruiting staff, under the direction of Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Roya Attar, O.D., will be putting a detailed recruiting plan forward to attract the “best and brightest to Central Appalachia,” Buzzelli said. “We are devoting significant effort to meeting our mission of offering a professional education to students from our region and other rural areas of America who will return to practice in those communities after graduation. The faculty is putting finishing touches on our curriculum for the competent practice of the future optometrist. The university is also working on complying with the ACOE’s recommendations for gaining full compliance with all standards in preparation for our request for final accreditation which will occur after we graduate our first class of optometrists in ‘20/20.’”
Similar to the college of osteopathic medicine, the optometry program will offer the KYCO Advantage, a program developed around the university’s mission of access and educational opportunity, providing all first-year students with the same resources – at no additional cost – including equipment, books, clinical clothing and national board examination fees.
Construction began last spring on the new $55 million Health Professions Education Building, a 103,000 square-foot facility that will house the college of optometry and provide technology and clinical training that will enhance the learning experience for the school of nursing and other health professions programs. The building will also have a food court featuring major brands Chick- fil-A, Einstein Bros Bagels and a campus convenience store.
“It is the goal of the University of Pikeville to make this new college the best and most prestigious college of optometry in America,” said Patton. “This college will be the center of the effort to reduce vision loss in this part of the nation. We are the leading agency seeking to solve this problem with diagnosis and research. We will create opportunities for learning, strengthen our knowledge-based economy and foster a new, healthier Appalachia.”
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