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University of Central Arkansas considering an optometry school


The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) recently announced it is assessing the possibility of opening a new school of optometry.

Conway, AR-The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) recently announced it is assessing the possibility of opening a new school of optometry.

The university hired Tripp Umbach, a health care consulting group from Pennsylvania, to conduct the feasibility study to assess the current and projected needs of optometrists in Arkansas and the surrounding regions. The university says the consultants will also look at the advantages and disadvantages of developing a school of optometry at UCA.

Related: Are there too many optometrists?

“There is currently no optometry school in the state of Arkansas,” says Steven Runge, PhD, executive vice president and provost. “We are a state institution, and we serve the citizens of Arkansas. If we can correct that deficit in a sustained way that will provide educational opportunities for Arkansas students and enhance the medical services for all Arkansans, then that is what we want to do.”

The feasibility study will also provide a financial model for construction, start up, and operation of the potential optometry school for the first four years. The study will begin next month and be completed by May 31.

"The Arkansas Optometric Association commends the University of Cnetral Arkansas for its careful study of the feasibility of opening an additional school of optometry and, more importantly, for their careful analysis of the current and projected need for more optometrists in our state," says Arkansas Optometric Association President Susan DeBlack, OD. "Our association hopes to work with the university in their research to determine if there is a legitimate unmet need for vision care in our area, and how to best provide the highest level of care to our citizens and the best possible education for our students." 

Next: Another OD school?


Another OD school?

The subject of the number of optometry schools has been a hot topic in the profession for a number of years. Last summer, the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) released the results of the National Eyecare Workforce Study, which found that there is a sufficient supply of ODs to meet the demand for the next 20 years.

Related: Eyecare workforce is ‘adequate’ for current and projected demand

The AOA says it is not in a position to evaluate any specific proposal to establish a new optometry school, but says it supports rigorous accreditation standards.

“The decision to consider starting a new school is a state and local decision, made by public and private entities with the proper authority,” the AOA said in a statement to Optometry Times. “The option should be pursued through an open and transparent review process through which individual ODs and others can provide input.”

ASCO says it does not comment on potential optometry schools until or if the schools become a part of its organization.

"The sudden interest in starting new optometry schools is troubling and should be addressed by the profession at large,” says Optometry Times Chief Optometric Editor Ernie Bowling, OD, FAAO. “Optometric manpower numbers have been debated over the last year. While the established thinking is that current numbers are ‘adequate’ for projected needs, no one wishes to see a glut of newly-minted optometrists hit the workforce.

Related: Dr. Bowling weighs in on the optometric workforce study

“The business of colleges is education, but much thought should be given to whether new optometry schools are in fact necessary to provide for the eyecare needs of the public we serve,” says Dr. Bowling.

UCA is located in Conway, about 30 miles north of Little Rock. University President Tom Courtway says the university is committed to being a state leader in health sciences, and he hopes the study will help the university come to an informed decision. 

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