States where ODs make bank

July 28, 2015

Your salary as an optometrist can vary greatly based in part on the state in which you live.

Your salary as an optometrist can vary greatly based in part on the state in which you live.

By how much, you ask? Well, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the annual mean wages of optometrists by state ranges from $46,400 to $178,640. So, who’s making bank, and who’s going broke? Let’s find out. 

Highest paying states for ODs

5. North Dakota

Starting off our list of states with the highest-earning optometrists is North Dakota. ODs in North Dakota earn an hourly mean wage of $62.68 for an annual mean wage of $130,380.

Related: Report says ODs have 'suprisingly low' salaries

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4. New Mexico

Coming in at number four is New Mexico, where optometrists earn a hourly mean wage of $68.70, adding up to an annual mean wage of $142,900.

Related: What is the public image of optometry?

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3. Oklahoma

Sooner ODs landed them at number three on the list of highest-paid optometrists in the country. The hourly mean wage in Oklahoma is $70.35, bringing the annual mean wage to $146,330.

Oklahoma also came in at number three on a recent ranking of best places to practice for physicians in part because it has a low average state and local tax burden.

Related: Best and worst states to practice 2015

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2. Connecticut

Connecticut ODs’ earnings bring them to the number two spot. The hourly mean wage is $81.43, so optometrists in this state bring home an annual mean wage of $169,380.  

Connecticut ODs may make bank, but it also ranked as one of the worst states to practice for physicians. The state has a high cost of living-45 percent higher than the national average-low morale, and low average compensation for physicians.  

“It’s true that things are very competitive in Connecticut,” says Leora Berns, OD, of Avon, CT. “We have NECO, SUNY, and Salus (formerly PCO) all close by, and now the new school in Worcester, MA. That makes for a lot of optometrists. However, we have one of the best practice laws in the country, which makes it fulfilling to practice to the full extent of our training.”

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1. Alaska

Alaska comes in as the top-paying state for optometrists, where the mean hourly wage is a whopping $85.55, adding up to an annual mean wage of $178,640. Alaska has only 50 optometrists for a state that is home to more than 736,000 people.

Alaska also ranked in the top 10 on the list of best places to practice. The state does not charge an income tax and boasts an adventurous lifestyle and beautiful landscapes.

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Next: Lowest paying states for ODs

 

Lowest paying states for ODs

5. Alabama

Coming in at number five for the states with the lowest-paid ODs is Alabama. Optometrists in Alabama earn a mean hourly wage of $45.71 for an annual mean wage of $95,080.

And that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at! In fact, Alabama ODs are making more than twice as much as the optometrists that landed in the number one spot on this list.

“I always question any government statistics,” says Optometry Times Chief Optometric Editor Ernie Bowling, OD, FAAO. “That said, I am surprised this is where my home state falls. One could argue there seems to be an oversupply of ODs in the state’s metropolitan areas, but I’m certain that can be said of any heavily populated area. And those ODs who practice in rural Alabama appear to do very well, and because they practice in underserved communities they get to see a ton of disease. Again while I seriously question the BLS numbers, it’s worth more than money to live in Th’ South!"

Interestingly, Alabama is one of three states on this list that are home to a school of optometry (and a fourth state on this list will open a school next year). 

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4. Illinois

Optometrists in Illinois are bringing home a mean hourly wage of $44.40 for an annual mean wage of $92,360. Ilinois is home to the Illinois College of Optometry. 

“Now people will know why my two sons are computer software developers-without an advanced degree, they have salaries that are significantly higher and have equity positions in their companies, all for the first year of their positions after undergraduate school!” says S. Barry Eiden, OD, FAAO, of Deerfield, IL.

“I think that it is a simple economics issue of supply and demand. With more and more colleges of optometry opening, we are having an influx of new ODs with less available position," he says. "Combine this with the ever-increasing student debt load, and I think we are facing one of the most critical challenges to the future of our profession.”

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3. Kentucky

A mean hourly wage of $42.51-translating to an annual mean wage of $88,410-lands the bluegrass state at number three.

Kentucky's University of Pikeville will open a school of optometry next year. 

Related: University of Pikeville to open 22nd optometry school in U.S. 

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2. Nevada

Nevada optometrists come in a number two on the list of lowest-paid ODs in the country. They earn a mean hourly wage of $40.54. That adds up to an annual mean wage of $84,310.

Janet Carter, OD, FAAO, of Reno, NV, says she would be interested in seeing what the numbers would say if the state was broken down into regions.

“I know from having lived in both of the state's largest metropolitan areas-Las Vegas and the Reno/Sparks area-that the cost of living in the northern part of the state is considerably higher than in the south, largely because of differences in the housing market,” she says. “In the rural areas living costs also tend to be high, especially gasoline and housing.  

“All that being said, it is true that the cost of living in Nevada is lower than in California,” says Dr. Carter. “Not only is housing less expensive, but also we have no state income tax, so that might keep salary demand low. It is also true that our metropolitan areas have a large penetration by vision care providers-and expanded Medicaid, for that matter-so low reimbursements may drive down compensation as well.”

But Nevada ODs will be counting their blessings when they see which optometrists top the list.

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1. Puerto Rico

Those other states might have it bad, but optometrists practicing in everybody’s favorite unincorporated territory definitely have it the worst when it comes to salary.

ODs in Puerto Rico have a mean hourly wage of just $22.31, adding up to an annual mean wage of $46,400. With the cost of tuition plus expenses at Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry ranging in price from $41,844 to $44,258, depending on the year, optometrists in la isla del encanto may be paying on student loans for quite a while. Making things worse, Puerto Rico is suffering from an economic and financial crisis, and many residents are struggling to stay afloat on the island.    

Related: States fighting to advance optometry

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