Emory & Henry College has received authorization from the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) to move forward in the process toward accreditation of what would be the first optometry school in Virginia.
The ACOE informed the College late last week that it has been designated as a “stage one applicant,” which is the first step on the road toward accreditation.
Officials from Emory & Henry College and the Appalachian College of Optometry signed an agreement earlier this year signaling their intention to work together toward the development of a school of optometry in Grundy.
The agreement formalized an effort to achieve accreditation, which would be required before the school could begin admitting students.
We are excited to have passed the first test in the accreditation process and to be moving toward the possibility of an Emory & Henry College School of Optometry in GrundyDave HaneyVice-President for Academic Affairs at Emory & Henry.
Part of the requirements for achieving stage one applicant status involved the completion of a feasibility study to demonstrate the viability and need for the proposed school.
According to the study, the proposed school would have an annual economic impact on the region of $11 million in its second year, which would grow to almost $30 million in year nine. By year two, the study estimates that the School would be responsible for 131 jobs, including 32 employees working directly for the school. That number would grow to 325 jobs in year nine, including 62 employees directly employed by the School.
As a stage one applicant, Emory & Henry now has three years to work on the requirements for the next stage of a three-stage applicant process.
Pending accreditation, the name of the optometry school would be changed to reflect its function as a branch campus of Emory & Henry.
The school would be located in a three story, 38,000 square-foot facility consisting of modern classrooms, seminar rooms and office space. The building originally was constructed as the original educational campus of the Appalachian College of Pharmacy.
To date, $11.6 million has been dedicated to the project, including $6 million from the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors to cover operating costs during the initial phases of development and $5.6 million from the Coalfield Economic Development Authority for capital improvements of real estate, new construction and equipment purchases. The money from both groups is allocated by the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority, which provided the initial leadership for the project.
By creating a school of optometry, officials with the two institutions hope to meet a large need both for education in the field and for accessible, quality eye care in the region. Currently, the two closest optometry programs are the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry and The Ohio State University College of Optometry.
“Both of these schools are relatively small, accepting approximately 40 to 65 students each year. That leaves a large geographic gap in providing optometry education for potential students in our region,” said Brian Looney, dean of the School of Optometry.
Optometry is a four-year doctorate degree. Some optometry students perform an optometric residency after graduation (typically a one-year residence program), while some will go directly into practice. Since the 1970s, the scope of practice for optometrists has increased dramatically to include the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases, including glaucoma.
Consideration of a school of optometry is part of a strategic initiative by Emory & Henry to improve health care education and health care in Southwest Virginia, an initiative that includes the developing School of Health Sciences in Marion and a collaboration with the University of Virginia to enhance both physician and allied health education.