Plans by Adelaide’s Flinders University to introduce its own optometry course have been hailed by the profession and academics alike.
The new course is expected to have a solid uptake and is likely to reduce the flow of South Australian students interstate as well as boost eye health in indigenous and rural communities. At present, in Australia, optometrists are educated to degree level at one of the three institutes conducting optometric courses – the University of New South Wales, University of Melbourne and the Queensland University of Technology. Each course is or is about to become five years in duration and leads to a Bachelor degree in optometry.
According to Flinders University, the new course will fill a crucial gap in optometry training with the only qualifications currently offered in N.S.W, Victoria and Queensland.
University authorities say that South Australia’s lack of optometry studies – which provide the skills to test eyes and prescribe glasses – is compounded by the fact that some South Australian students remain and practise interstate after graduation.
While details are yet to be finalised in consultation with optometry practitioners and the national accreditation body, Flinders optometry course will be introduced as a specialisation in Vision Science within a three-year Bachelor of Medical Science, to be followed by a two-year Master of Optometry.
Flinders newly-appointed Executive Dean of Health Sciences, Professor Michael Kidd, says the new course will further enhance the University’s existing strength in teaching medicine and nursing, and will also draw on Flinders advanced eye and vision research capability.
“Flinders School of Medicine and Faculty of Health Sciences are highly regarded teaching institutions and a degree in Vision Science and a Master of Optometry will further consolidate the University’s leadership in health sciences education. Flinders aims to be the first choice for health professional courses in South Australia,” says Professor Kidd.
Libby Boschen, the President of the South Australian branch of the Optometrists Association of Australia (OAA) is a little more sanguine about the new optometry course.
She says: “Whilst we welcome a new approach to undergraduate training that may assist in getting optometrists to country and regional areas, we have serious concerns about where the increasing number of graduates are going to be employed. Queensland, NSW and Melbourne have all significantly increased their number of optometry student intakes and an additional 40 from Flinders per year has the potential to create problems. Furthermore, though the idea of extended clinical placements is sound, experience tells us that sourcing sufficient optometrists with the appropriate facilities and resources able to take the students is likely to be problematic.”
Chris Beer, CEO of Australia’s largest optical group, Luxottica, has welcomed the move saying it would help relieve the shortage of optometrists in Australia.
Luxottica is the largest employer of optometrists in the country and according to the company’s CEO for Australasia, South East Asia and Africa, Mr Chris Beer: “Any initiative that eases the shortage of optometrists in Australia, especially in rural and remote regions, is a good thing. There is a strong expectation that any course offered by Flinders University meets the current high standards of academic rigour and clinical training offered by other optometry schools in Australia. We look forward to learning more about the content and structure of Flinders University’s proposed course.”
Last year, Luxottica called for a boost to optometry training places and more support for qualified overseas-trained optometrists wanting to practice in Australia, after the release of a major study that concludes future numbers of optometrists may not be enough to meet future eye health needs.The study – conducted by Access Economics and commissioned by Luxottica, modelled a nationwide shortage of up to 3,300 full-time equivalent1 (FTE) optometrists in 2026, 46 per cent of the estimated number required to meet demand for optometry services, if current policy trends continued.
The study confirmed a relative undersupply of optometrists in rural areas, with only 24.8 per cent of optometry services provided in regional Australia, where 29.4 per cent of the population resided.
The study concluded that present numbers of new optometrists entering practice were insufficient to keep pace. Training places at Australia’s three optometry schools were tightly capped – around 130 optometrists graduate each year – and relatively few overseas-trained optometrists receive accreditation to practice in Australia.
The Flinders initiative will help overcome a shortage of optometrists in the city and, with a particular focus on rural and remote health, offers a potential boost for the treatment of serious eye problems in indigenous communities. The University has strong teaching and research activities throughout South Australia and the Northern Territory with its Rural Clinical School, NT Rural Clinical School, Centre for Remote Health, NT Clinical School and Greater Green Triangle University Department of Rural Health.
Professor Kidd says Flinders regional teaching model, which includes long term placements of medical students in local communities, could be applied to the optometry courses. Flinders is also exploring possible links and partnerships with optical lens and frame manufacturers in South Australia.