Dr Ingrid Metsing, the Head of Department at the University of Johannesburg, gives us some insight into her work and the challenges she has experienced during the pandemic.
Why did you go into Optometry?
When I went to the University of the North (currently referred to the University of Limpopo), I registered to study BSc with the intention to continue with my studies after obtaining the qualification to go and study medicine. I did not know anything about the Optometry profession and that the training was offered at the University of Limpopo. One of my friends who had vision problems went to the Optometry department to have her vision tested and she informed myself and other friends of ours about the exisistance of the department. This led to myself, including my friends registering to study Optometry. I love Optometry since it’s a profession not far from that of medicine where one is able to assist people with their vision problems.
Why did you decide to go academia?
I worked in the private practices as an Optometrist for almost 13 years. I was getting bored in private practice of lack of mental stimulation. I first started by registering for the Certificate of Advanced Studies with NECO and I amongst the 1 st few Optometrists who got the qualification. This then encouraged me to seek employment in academia. Initially I went to RAU then and enquired if there was any lecturer post available. I was informed that there was no post advertised and I will be informed should there be any post available. Fortunately, the Technikon of Witwatersrand posted on the local newspaper that they looking for a lecturer, and that was for one of my favourite subjects, which is Binocular Vision. I applied for the post and I was appointed as a lecturer for Binocular Vision
What makes you tick?
Hard working towards achieving my goals makes me to tick. I have come across many challenges in my life and I have learned that there is nothing that beats hard working. I have further learned that challenges in our lives are meant to strengthen us and make us better people.
What are your challenges as HOD?
Administration work, rather than academic work. Including having to deal with different individuals with different characteristics. I have learned in this position not to take anything personally and to respect each one in my department. I have also learned how to enforce the difficult things the department is expected to deliver for the faculty without creating animosity. In addition to the above, I have refused to let go of my lecturing activities because I really love teaching, including research and writing of publications. This has been a serious challenge for me, although I believe that I am coping under the circumstances.
What is your specific role as HOD?
Management of the department in line with the requirements of the University and the Faculty. Representing the department in the Faculty and University meetings. Constant communication with the students, academics and support staff members.
How do u see the future of Optometry?
I see the future of Optometry being very bright. Especially with the approved expansion of the scope of practice including Ocular Therapeutics recently. Although the private sector of our profession has Medical Aids challenges in terms of payment towards the services provided, our communities will always need to consult with us.
What Your views on Online Dispensing?
Online dispensing can work best with the dispensing of Contact Lenses. I am still concerned about the dispensing of spectacles online related, to who will then adjust the frames for the patients. In addition, there will be no required personal touch.
How has Covid 19 impacted on this academic year at UJ?
COVID-19 has had a lot of impact on the academic activities. The University encouraged and gave support towards academic staff members to lecture online. Most academics had to learn how to offer lectures and tests online which became time consuming and I must say very challenging to most of us including the students. Students coming from the rural areas also struggled with their academic activities, especially those with connectivity problems. The other challenge we encountered was that of patient numbers as per the requirement of the HPCSA by our students. We are still not certain if 50% of our students will reach their required target.
Has online learning been successful for the Optometry students in 2020?
Yes it has been successful, since most of our students have managed to write all their assessments, and we will definitely have Optometry graduates end of this year.
When don’t you think things will return to normal?
My personal view is that what we are going through now is our new normal. More research is needed to make sure that our profession in terms of patient care is always available to people in need of our services.
Has there been interest in studying optometry in 2021?
We have received many applications above 600 for candidates interested in studying Optometry, and the number of our applications are increasing daily, leaving us with a difficult decision of selecting at least 55 applicants.