College of Optometry hosts German students for week of learning, insight

Visiting optometry students from Germany practice sports vision screenings for members of the Pacific University men's soccer team.

More than 20 optometry students from Aalen University in Germany took a sports vision course at Pacific in April.

“It’s very nice for us to see a different kind of optometry.”

That’s Simon Jakel, a master’s degree candidate in optometry from Aalen, Germany, who echoed the thoughts of many of the 20-plus European students who visited Pacific’s College of Optometry the last week of April.

The students came to Forest Grove as part of a decade-long joint venture between the College of Optometry and Aalen University in Germany. Spurred by a conversation between former Optometry Dean Willard Bleything and Aalen professor Dietmar Kuemmel in 1999 at an American Academy of Optometry meeting in Seattle, the program allows European students to gain knowledge of American optometric practices while earning a master’s degree from Aalen. 

The students took part in a week-long sports vision course at Pacific, taught by Professor Graham Erickson, which included visits to sport performance labs at Nike. The international students also visited private optometric vision therapy practices in Oregon, Washington and Colorado after their stay in Forest Grove.

Their visit also included hands-on sports vision screening sessions with members of the Pacific University men’s soccer team in Forest Grove.

“In Germany, we have nothing like that of sport vision,” Jakel said. “It was very cool for us to see the vision training.”

“You can do so much with vision therapy,” said Ricarda Urban, from Wallduern, Germany.

The Aalen University students, who are graduates of bachelor-level optometry programs, are enrolled in a two-year master’s program in optometry, not the doctorate level available in the U.S. Many are employed in optical shop environments; some are working in medical clinics with ophthalmologists, so vision therapy is a “totally different way of practice,” Bleything said.

“German optometry is very different from American optometry,” said Kuemmel, who accompanied the students to Forest Grove. He noted that Germans produce very high-quality eyeglasses and are skilled in high-quality refraction practice. But, in general, he said, European optometrists are not allowed to do many of procedures involved in primary optometry in the U.S., such as medical drops in the eye. The vision therapy skills learned here is a benefit that gives the Europeans the ability to do some new things in their practices, he said.

“It’s very, very good for optometry in Germany,” said Kuemmel, adding that the program brings skills that “step-by-step” benefit primary eye care.

“The students that have taken these courses from us are now equipped to provide a higher level of visual care within their own communities,” Bleything agreed. “Pacific’s involvement shows that we recognize the needs of the greater international community and are doing our part in bringing the level of education up to higher standards.

“This rubs off with our own students and encourages humanitarian involvement. At Pacific, we care.”

The program at Aalen University is intense, Bleything said. Students come not only from Germany, but other European countries, including this year Switzerland, Luxembourg and Slovakia. They spend four days—Friday through Tuesday—at the Aalen campus every month for much of the two-year program. The rest of the time, they are working in their own businesses or practices.

Before coming to the master’s program, students are required to work in their field a minimum of a year and half, though many have experience of 10 years or more, said Kuemmel.

The Aalen program is also aligned with New England College of Optometry, so students spend two weeks studying clinical optometry in Boston during one year of the program. The two U.S. visits offer the students a wide range of optometric services to learn, but also give the students a chance to see both coasts of the United States. Students also are required to write a thesis, which can add up to a year before they finally earn their master’s degree.

Several Pacific University optometry faculty members have lectured in courses in Aalen over the years, including Bleything, Erickson, Karl Citek, Bradley Coffey, Scott Cooper, JP Lowery and Hannu Laukkanen.  Lecturing in English, the Pacific professors spend five days in Aalen when their course is offered. The three-course sequence taught by Pacific professors includes binocular vision, vision therapy and pediatric optometry. Each course is the equivalent of a three-semester-hour course in the U.S. system, noted Bleything.

For the Pacific professors, the courses in Germany are also a bonus in professional development, Bleything said.

“It is a much different task to transfer knowledge, to teach, those whose English is not their primary language,” he said.

“You find yourself organizing the content of your lectures differently, using alternative media approaches…In short, you come out a more effective teacher.”

Posted by Jenni Luckett ( on May 4, 2012 at 9:16 AM

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