In an attempt to encourage young practitioners to consider a future in independent optometry, the UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science is introducing an Optometric Internship Program.
The scheme will be open to optometrists with a minimum of three years’ clinical experience who are interested in entering the independent sector with aspirations of practice ownership.
In a media release announcing the program, the School said that the optical marketplace faced ever-increasing competition and a considerable number of independent optometric practices had chosen to work via corporate models of practice ownership.
Interns may work in as many as five different practices- under different mentors- and as a result they will develop a diverse skill set that benefits both the intern and each of the practices they work in.
“Remaining independent practitioners have felt competitive commercial pressures, in particular experiencing increased market rates to employ optometrists and they report finding it increasingly difficult to attract graduates to their businesses. Many independent optometrists have concerns about succession plans for their practices both in terms of continued care for their patients and for the practitioner’s own retirement strategies,” the release stated.
“A viable and healthy independent sector is important for the optometric profession in order to provide best-practice holistic and specialty services for the Australian optical consumer.
“Many young optometrists – a high percentage of whom are female – are intimidated by the prospect of becoming self-employed and are abandoning, or at the very least delaying, any previous thoughts or plans for practice ownership. This is likely to be a contributing factor to the attrition of graduates from the profession observed by academics and the wider optometric community.”
The Optometric Internship Program will initially seek to link interns with specialty practices where they will work a minimum of one day per week.
While working across a variety of practices, optometric interns will be registered into an educational program, run by the School, designed to build their business, marketing, and management skills. The course will be designed and taught by successful independent optometrists and small business experts to provide a business skill set designed to complement the intern’s optometric degree and accumulated clinical experience. The course will be open to the general optometric community as a stand-alone certificate course or may become an elective in the Masters of Optometry program.
The School says it will be the responsibility of each intern to increase practice turnover by building new business for the practice principal. Interns will have the opportunity to be mentored by an experienced independent optometrist and will have the opportunity to build their skills in specialty areas such as Ortho K contact lens practice, behavioural optometry, or in reputable general practice.
“Interns may work in as many as five different practices – under different mentors – and as a result they will develop a diverse skill set that benefits both the Intern and each of the practices they work in. Interns may choose to work in the program part-time while undertaking post graduate study, caring for young children, or when combining work in the corporate sector. The long-term vision for the scheme foresees the intern and a mentor establishing a strong and viable relationship where the practitioner’s business is built into a bigger and more profitable enterprise where a full-time position may be established, and conceivably another intern could be brought in when the principal wishes to phase into retirement.”
The UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science will call for applicants to the Optometric Internship Program, with approved interns receiving a guaranteed salary (anticipated by current market rates to be circa AUD$125K pa) and to be bonded on a 12-month commitment to each practice (five days at AUD$25K each). This arrangement will involve compulsory additional continuing education of 50 hours annually (CEP approved).
Optometrists interested in taking an optometric intern should register their interest with Fiona Stapleton(Head of School at UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science). A meeting of interested mentor optometrists will be held soon to develop the program fully so that positions for the 2011 internships can be advertised through the OAA and optical media.