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The Doctor of Optometry Program for International Students (DOPIS) welcomed three internationally trained students to the inaugural cohort in the summer of 2022.

Program applicants must hold a doctoral, master’s or bachelor’s in optometry degree from an accredited or recognized international optometric college/university. Through the UAB School of Optometry’s program, they can earn a Doctor of Optometry degree in 24 months. This program is open to individuals living in the United States as well as to those living abroad. The DOPIS program is accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education.

“International students have long been part of the UABSO family,” said Kelly Nichols, UAB School of Optometry dean. “The new program facilitates the opportunity specifically for international optometry students who want to practice in the United States to achieve their goal.”

Shankari Garcia, Shivali Sharma and Keyur Savla made up this initial cohort. Garcia, from the United States, holds a Bachelor of Optometry from Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom and has a master’s in clinical optometry from Salus University. Sharma, from Canada, holds a Bachelor of Optometry from Ashton University in Birmingham, England. Savla, from India, holds a Bachelor of Optometry from the Lotus College of Optometry in Mumbai and is also pursuing a doctorate in vision science from UAB.

Each of the students experiences both didactic and clinical studies, which exposes them to a variety of teachings. The cohort’s initial clinical teachings are guided by Jennifer Craig, OD, the coursemaster for the DOPIS Clinical Skills Lab.

This intensive five-week course covered the skills needed to perform a comprehensive eye exam. It included a review of skills they already knew and provided the opportunity to learn new skills. At the end of the course, each student had to perform a comprehensive eye exam successfully so they could begin fall clinical rotations alongside third year optometry students. 

“Since these students had already been practicing in another country, they were familiar with some of the skills we teach our students, so that laid a good foundation for the additional skills we teach our students here,” Craig said. “They were all incredibly dedicated and worked tirelessly in the short amount of time we were given to hone these skills in order to be successful in clinic and provide excellent patient care.”

The DOPIS students enter the program with varied professional goals. For Savla, “Academia would be the ultimate ideal career opportunity. However, the industry also has a lot of research and training opportunities, and I am open to exploring those.”

Director of Student Affairs, Connie Wright, said that the DOPIS program is a welcome addition to the School’s catalog of academic offerings, which includes three dual-degree programs (OD/MPH, OD/MBA and OD/MS), as well as three in-house and five affiliated residencies. The Vision Science Graduate Program offers students the opportunity to earn a master’s or doctorate in vision science.

“There are a limited number of international programs like this in the United States so applicants are eagerly expressing interest in this opportunity at UAB,” she said. “The university is one of few optometry schools based in the heart of a renowned academic health center which gives us an advantage that others don’t have.”

Wright added that the goal is to grow the program over the next few years along with fine-tuning of this accelerated program at UABSO.