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Is an optometric education cost-effective?


High-paying careers all require an education, many beyond an undergraduate degree. Yet optometry faces challenges that have the potential to further erode income.

I just came in from our habitual end-of-the-weekend sunset cruise around Weiss Lake. The water was clear and calm, with a gentle breeze blowing as we made our way upstream. The setting sun had turned the sky a faded orange before it set over Lookout Mountain. It is evenings like this I give thanks for my life, my family, and the profession that has made all this possible. I am truly blessed. I think every week at this time, if the Man upstairs takes me now, I’ll go with no regrets.

Then I wonder if this generation will be as prosperous as those before. I have a real heart for optometry students, and two items recently gave me pause. The first was a recent Optometry Times article covering a report from Business Insider, which said optometrists have surprisingly low salaries compared to other healthcare professions.1 The other was the entering class profile of 2013 Colleges of Optometry, specifically the average estimated four-year cost of attendance.2

Dr. Bowling: Are there too many optometrists? 

Looking at the nice chart from the ODCareer website, which was derived from data supplied by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), the estimated cost of a four-year optometric education, including living expenses, ranged from $143,000 for an in-state resident to $278,000 for an out-of-state student. And for this capital outlay the average optometrist can expect to earn about $112,000 annually, according to Business Insider. The article, while acknowledging that optometry is “a prestigious job,” goes on to say optometrists “make just a fraction as much as some medical professionals. For comparison, the average physician earns $191,880 a year, and dentists, who undergo a similar amount of training, earn $168,870.”3 I was more than a little shocked, so I went to the source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Perusing those tables, I noticed that optometrists make roughly the same annual salary as pharmacists and lawyers.4                 

High-paying careers all require an education, many beyond an undergraduate degree. Yet optometry faces challenges that have the potential to further erode income. We all know what they are and space does not allow a prolonged discussion of those topics here. But those matters need to be addressed profession-wide for both the benefit of those currently in practice and those who will join us in the near future. Business people are comfortable performing a cost-benefit analysis when determining whether to make a particular financial decision. Has anyone ever done such an analysis concerning an optometric education? I know it was a great personal and financial decision for myself, and I’m certain most of us can say the same. I want the next generation of optometrists to feel the way I do every Sunday evening.


1. McCarthy, C. Report says optometrists have “surprisingly low” salaries. Optometry Times. 

News Flash. August 30, 2014. Available at:  http://mail.optometrytimes.com/c.html?ufl=2&rtr=on&s=ecfi,1qzft,5r0e,h3gf,l7u3,3c14,jc8c.

2. Optometry school rankings and specialties. Available at: http://www.odcareer.com. Accessed 9/2/2014.

3. Business Insider. 18 Prestigious Jobs With Surprisingly Low Pay. http://www.businessinsider.com/jobs-with-surprisingly-low-pay-2014-8?op=1. Accessed 9/1/2014.

4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available at:  http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ocs/sp/nctb1477.pdf. Accessed 9/1/2014.

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