History of the Program
The Externship Program at the UAB School of Optometry was begun in 1989 by Dr.
John Amos, Director of Residencies, Dr. Lester Caplan, Assistant Dean for
Clinical Services, and Dr. James Beisel, who was the first Director of the
program. Impetus for the development of externships was provided by a concern
that students be afforded the best possible opportunity to participate in the
clinical treatment of eye disease. Although most states permitted optometrists
to treat ocular diseases with therapeutic pharmaceutical agents (TPAs) at the
time, Alabama did not have such a law (it was not passed until 1995). For UAB
students to gain formally documented TPA experience, patient encounters were
necessary in off-campus clinics and practices at which TPAs were prescribed.
Concurrently, the 1988-89 academic year marked the first year of a dramatic
modification in the professional curriculum. Most clinical courses were moved up
one quarter, so that by the 1990-91 academic year students began their clinical
experience in the Spring Quarter of the second year. This required fourth year
students to practice off campus to make room for the incoming second year class.
Therefore, a limited externship was instituted in the Spring Quarter of 1989,
with seven senior students selected, by lottery, to participate in the pilot
Full implementation, with all students participating, was not anticipated until
the Fall Quarter of 1992. Because fourth year students were needed for the
school’s specialty clinics, only 14 students were allowed to participate in
externships during the 1990-91 academic year. This limited program seemed unfair
to the fourth year students who were not able to participate, so in the 1991-92
academic year, by creating a five session fourth year calendar in place of the
four-quarter calendar, every fourth year student was assigned to a seven-week
externship. The quarter system was re-instituted two years later, and in the
1997-98 academic year a second externship rotation was added and a full ten-week
summer quarter was created. Until that time, externship rotations had been
limited to the Fall, Winter and Spring Quarters because the Summer Quarter was
an abbreviated six weeks.
Dr. Lester Caplan was Director of the Externship Program from 1991-2000. Even
after “retiring”, however, Dr. Caplan remained with the program as its
consultant until spring 2014. In 2000, Dr. John Classé was named Director of the
Externship Program, and in 2001 the program was expanded to encourage students
to consider externships as part of their career planning by seeking
opportunities in clinics, practices, or facilities that offered prospects for
post-graduate employment. The semester system was instituted in the 2009-2010
academic year with five externship rotations added: Summer (eight weeks) and
Fall-A, Fall-B, Spring-A, and Spring-B, full nine-week terms were created. Until
that time, externship rotations had been limited to the Fall, Winter, Spring and
the Summer Quarter was an abbreviated six weeks. In the 2013-2014 academic year,
the semester system was instituted with three externship rotations: Summer (12
weeks), Fall (16 weeks), and Spring (16 weeks). This has resulted in an increase
in the roster of externship facilities, as students have taken advantage of
these broadened goals of the Externship Program.
Dr. John Classé retired and Dr. Leo P. Semes was named Director of
the Externship Program in June, 2010. Dr. Leo P. Semes retired in July, 2016 and Dr. Keshia S. Elder was named Director of the Externship Program.