With 2020, the Year of Optometry, upon us, it is a perfect time to reflect on what optometry is like for students entering the profession and young optometrists who have graduated over the last 19 years.
Covalent Careers and New Grad Optometry are go-to sources for new graduate optometrists, and the sites have conducted research on everything from salaries across different modes of practice to desired workplace culture in the 2019 Optometrist Report.1
Jennifer Lyerly, OD, and Darryl Glover, OD, sit down with founder Matt Geller, OD, to explore the results.
The survey compiled responses of 1,214 optometrists and optometry students graduating between 2000 and 2022. Respondents were primarily female (73.5 percent), which is consistent with graduating class demographics from the last few years.
Practice mode driven by salary
What some listeners may find interesting is that in practicing optometrists 10 years or less out of school, practice ownership has a much different face than what is traditionally represented in the industry. The majority of practice owners in this survey, 56.7 percent, were young females. This is an exciting emerging trend in optometry that both Dr. Glover and Dr. Lyerly have seen in their colleagues where the face of ownership in optometry is noticeably skewing female.
The survey looked at what mode of practice optometry students report they plan to pursue versus where working ODs actually end up in their early careers.
While only 8.8 percent of optometry students responded that they were planning to work in corporate practice, almost double that number at16.5 percent of working ODs ended up practicing in a corporate setting. Of optometry students surveyed, 68 percent want to go into private practice, but only 45 percent of ODs actually do so.
Why is that? Starting salary is a major driver of this decision for graduating ODs. The average salary for corporate ODs is $120,722, while the average starting salary for private practice ODs is $106,749.
Dr. Geller shares results from another survey that hw conducted of ODs in a corporate setting. He asked the likely reason they started to work in corporate optometry. Salary was the most common reason reported, but workplace flexibility and lower responsibilities were also cited as reasons why doctors pursued corporate jobs.
Choosing practice mode
He also conducted a survey asking ODs working in private practice why they pursued that career modality. The most commonly reported reasons were that they want more independence than corporate optometry provides or they heard negative things about corporate optometry and patient load expectations.
Dr. Gellar says that corporate entities are focused on addressing these concerns to become more competitive, and he has seen a movement in the industry for corporate jobs to provide more autonomy and independence for employed ODs.
The 2019 Optometry Report shows that corporate employers looking to make their workplaces more attractive to ODs may be making a difference in retaining their workforces. Despite the fact that the majority of graduating ODs say they want to go into private practice, only 36.8 percent of ODs who self-report that they plan to change jobs are planning a change to private practice.
“For those looking to change jobs, you reach that point in your career where there has to be that ‘next phase,’” says Dr. Geller.
But private practice is not always what’s next for those working in corporate optometry. Dr. Geller has seen increasing interest in corporate sublease options in the last few years. He has also seen pushback from doctors who work for private equity-owned groups to classify their workplaces as corporate due to the feeling of autonomy that exists within their individual offices.
The survey also looked at student debt in detail. A shocking 29.2 percent of graduating ODs say they are “not confident” about managing their finances after graduation. Interestingly, students just entering school are currently more optimistic about how well they will be prepared for life after school, while that feeling drops 16 percent by their fourth year.
Why do students feel so concerned about their financial outlook leaving school?
“I want to blame optometry schools in this case,” Dr. Geller says.
1. Geller M. The 2019 Optometrist Report: An Epic Journey. CovalentCareers.com. Available at: https://covalentcareers.com/resources/2019-optometrist-report/. Accessed 12/19/19.