Would you want your kids to become optometrists?

June 2, 2016
Carl H. Spear, OD, MBA, FAAO

Dr. Spear owns a multi-location group practice with his wife Dr. Katie Gilbert Spear in Pensacola, FL. Dr. Spear is commander of the 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron at Duke Field in Florida and chairman of the American Academy of Optometry Exhib

I have two kids in college, and up until last year, they never showed an interest in becoming an optometrist. Like many of you, I had them work in the offices doing all the glamour jobs-licking recall stamps, counting frames, taking out trash, cleaning baseboards, and many of the other jobs that often cause a revolt of paid employees.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

I have two kids in college, and up until last year, they never showed an interest in becoming an optometrist. Like many of you, I had them work in the offices doing all the glamour jobs-licking recall stamps, counting frames, taking out trash, cleaning baseboards, and many of the other jobs that often cause a revolt of paid employees.

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Eventually both kids did work in the office doing “real” jobs like patient pre-testing and selling glasses. However, this was always more a job of convenience and necessity rather than of passion. Neither of them showed an interest in actually being an optometrist.    

Then suddenly two years ago at Christmas, both started asking what I thought about them going to optometry school. Since that time, I have had an opportunity to give more than 50 lectures, and it is generally a question I pose to the audience.

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I ask the audience to disregard the kid’s personality and just ask from a professional standpoint: would they recommend optometry as a profession? In my ultra-scientific poll of hand raising and head shaking along with audience discussion, it appears that the consensus is 35 percent “yes” and 65 percent “no.”



Most of those saying “no” cite decreased reimbursements, high cost of student loans, and an increase in the regulatory environment as the reasons for saying no.

Next: Supply and demand

 

Supply and demand

After a little discussion, I like to show the following graph because it has guided my decisions in optometry for the past 15 years.

The graph is really a simple supply-and-demand graph that shows the following:

1. Number or supply of ophthalmologist from the year 2000 to the year 2025 is flat at 19,000.

2. Demand of patients with cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetes increases from just over 20 million to almost 50 million

3. Number or supply of optometrists is also increasing. As an aside, if you are in a state with high demand and low supply of OD/MD, this is how you justify opening an optometry school.

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Next: What I told my kids

 

What I told my kids

With this graph in mind, I told both of my kids that I think optometry is a great profession and that the demand for care is continuing to increase. Remember, the numbers do not address dry eye, allergy, other ocular diseases, or the need for refractive care. 

This is also the gap in care that is giving rise to the innovation and challenges to the existing eyecare delivery model. There are certainly those in business who look to benefit from patients’ unmet needs.

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So, what did my kids decide?

One is graduating from college this year and has already taken the OAT and plans to apply to optometry school next year. The other has taken the OAT and the MCAT and will make a decision in the next few months.

I have three more kids at home. Only time will tell what I recommend to them.

Please send any comments to chspear@gmail.com.

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