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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 program.

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.

Dr. Candice I. Turner was appointed Director of the Externship Program in 2022 after Dr. Keshia S. Elder was promoted to Dean of the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry.

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