Albany in First-Ever Agreement to Provide Rural Optometrists

The University is entering into an agreement ó said to be the first of its kind in the nation ó with two other schools in the SUNY system to recruit rural high school scholars to enter an optometry career track.

The agreement will unite the University with the College of Optometry in Manhattan and the College of Agriculture and Technology in Cobleskill. Promising rural high school seniors will be recruited to begin their studies at the "rural gateway" campus at Cobleskill, where they will pursue an Associate of Science degree with a concentration in biology. At the completion of their first year, students maintaining a minimum 3.3 cumulative and science average may be considered for official application simultaneously to the University and at the College of Optometry. At least two places will be reserved for the most qualified of these students.

"I am delighted that the University is joining in this pioneering Rural Scholars Recruitment Program for Optometry with our two sister SUNY institutions," said President Hitchcock. "This joint program is an excellent response to Rethinking SUNY. It is an example of how we can gain economy of scale, maximize quality, and increase learning productivity through such a collaboration."

She added, "The University already has in place formal articulation agreements with SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY College of Optometry that involve our nationally recognized Department of Biological Sciences. This consortium agreement, the first of its kind in the country, will build upon the very successful partnerships already in operation among our three quite diverse, but compatible, institutions of higher education."

The President called the joint venture "an important new program aimed at improving rural health care opportunities in New York."

According to Michael Murphy, professor of biology and director of rural health programs at Cobleskill, one unique aspect of the agreement is that it recruits students straight from high schools. It then spells out the particular course of study they must take in order to prepare for optometry school.

"People often talk about the physician shortage in rural areas. But they donít usually think of the [dearth of] other health care professionals, including optometrists," Murphy said, adding that optometrists are among the most frequently used health care professionals in rural communities.

But roughly 80 percent of optometry students are recruited from urban or suburban areas and rarely elect to serve for long periods in rural areas. By recruiting in the rural high schools and clearing a direct path to optometry school for qualified science students, Murphy said there will be a better chance of retaining optometrists in the counties in which they have family and community ties.

Once accepted into the new program, students complete the second year at Cobleskill and transfer to Albany, where they complete the B.S. degree, also with a concentration in biology. The last four years occur at the College of Optometry in Manhattan for the Doctor of Optometry degree.

"At the University, these pre-optometry students will have the opportunity to take a wide variety of health-related upper-division biology electives" said Stephen Brown, a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences who worked on the agreement. "They will also participate in the strong undergraduate research program mentored by University faculty as well as scientists from Albany Medical College, the State Depart-ment of Health, and State Museum.

The College at Cobleskill has an award-winning natural sciences department. The rural campus is also unusual in the diversity of its basic research activities, with collaborative projects involving faculty at Bassett Research Institute, Albany Medical Center, and the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The College of Optometry is unique within the SUNY system and has an international reputation for its academic excellence and outreach activities, including crucial community clinics. Students in the program who do not win one of the two coveted reserved spots remain eligible to apply to the College of Optometry in their senior year at the University.

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