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ASCO tackles rising optometric needs by nurturing student interest


Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry President Mark Colip, OD, overviews the organization’s recent faculty report and details a new mentorship program for potential optometry students.

Group of medical students standing at table Image Credit: AdobeStock/WavebreakMediaMicro

Image Credit: AdobeStock/WavebreakMediaMicro

The demand for practicing eye care providers has been on a steady rise, according to Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) President Mark Colip, OD. “There's not a week that goes by that I don't get a call from either an [Illinois College of Optometry] alum or recruiter or somebody saying, ‘Hey, Mark, looking for a new graduate, is there anybody you can recommend for me?’”

That demand also translates to optometry school faculty, even though the number of full-time faculty employed at optometry schools and colleges has increased since 2007. Colip said growth of both school faculty and practicing eye care providers has been slight but constant over the past few years. As is evident in the recent ASCO 2023-2024 Annual Faculty Survey, which pulled data from all 24 US member schools, faculty grew by 5 personnel between 2023 and 2024 from 800 to 805. Additionally, while the number of female faculty has been increasing for the past 16 years, those numbers decreased in the report from 60.8% to 59.9%. African American faculty numbers also decreased less than 1%, from 3.9% to 3.2%.1

Colip said a few factors may be at work in contributing to these slight decreases. He cited the recent opening of Rocky Mountain University in Utah, which took on its first class of students for the 2023 academic year.2 Since a large majority of full-time faculty at the school currently consists of White men, this could contribute to the dip in overall female faculty. Additionally, the report has begun recognizing a non-binary category for gender, in which 2 faculty in the report had identified as. Colip said the inclusion of a non-binary category in federal agency reports for student numbers could also impact other data reported in the field. “It’s going to impact those numbers a little bit from what we’ve traditionally seen,” he said.

Recruiting initiatives

Colip said that he believes ASCO’s public awareness campaign Optometry Gives Me Life has played a role in garnering potential student interest and meeting the eye care provider need in optometry. Launched in 2019, the campaign was launched amid a consistent decline in the qualified applicant pools for optometry schools.3

According to Colip, the campaign has since found in its research that young people looking to enter the health care profession that they prioritize work-life balance. “That was something we weren’t necessarily used to hearing in the healthcare profession,” Colip said, noting that many practices are catering to these priorities by offering no weekend or evening work.

In the beginning of 2024, ASCO also launched Eye Opener Sessions, a virtual mentorship and in-person shadowing service that connects current or potential optometry students with practicing eye care providers. Since its launch, Colip said the service is particularly in need of eye care provider mentors. Around 1000 students and 100 eye care providers have signed up for the service. According to Colip, many of these students are on premed tracks.

Students and eye care providers are matched by ASCO based on geographical information, common interests, and goals. Mentorship can take form either as 30 or 60 minute virtual conversation, or half or full-day shadow sessions. Once paired, practicing eye care providers and students are given a discussion guide to help kick off conversation. Some of these discussion topics are the eye care provider’s experience in the optometry field, how optometry has been rewarding for them, a typical work day, and what optometry school was like, advice for a future in optometry, as well as detailing specialties in optometry. Students must be 18 years of age or older to participate.4

Those interested in learning more or signing up to participate in the service can do so on the Eye Opener Sessions website.

  1. Percentage of female faculty decreases for first time since 2007-2008. Newsletter. Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. Accessed April 25, 2024. https://www.naylornetwork.com/opto-nwl/articles/index.asp?aid=825096&issueID=100760
  2. Rocky Mountain University opens first college of optometry in the Intermountain West. Rocky Mountain University. October 25, 2022. Accessed April 25, 2024. https://rm.edu/news/rocky-mountain-university-opens-first-college-of-optometry-in-the-intermountain-west/
  3. ASCO broadens public awareness of optometry with new “Optometry Gives Me Life” campaign. Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. March 12, 2019. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://optometriceducation.org/news/asco-broadens-public-awareness-of-optometry-with-new-optometry-gives-me-life-campaign/
  4. Here’s to the next generation of optometrists. Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry Eye Opener Sessions. Accessed April 25, 2024. https://www.eyeopenersession.org/doctor
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