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Homeminews4,429 Registered Optoms in Aus

4,429 Registered Optoms in Aus

The recently introduced requirement for optometrists to register with The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and comply with strict professional development programs will not impact the number of practicing optometrists in Australia, said Joe Chakman, National Chief Executive Officer of the Optometrists Association of Australia.

According to AHPRA, there are now currently 4,429 optometrists registered across Australia. This statistic is significantly higher than the often touted figure of 3,500 to 3,700.

For the first time, AHPRA released statistics last month (May) detailing the ‘number of registered health practitioners by profession and nominated principal place of practice’ across the country.

AHPRA Chief Executive Officer Martin Fletcher said the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme made it possible for the first time to know how many registered health practitioners there are in Australia at any one point in time, within the 10 professions in the National Scheme.

If optometrists do not comply with the national requirement to attain 40 CPD activities every year, they will lose their registration and be unable to practice…

“In the past, the same person could be registered in different states and territories, so a clear profile of the number of practitioners within a specific profession was not always possible,” Mr. Fletcher said.

“Having access to this kind of accurate and detailed information is one of the benefits of national registration because it will assist in workforce planning,” he said.

Mr. Chakman said the reported number of optometrists confirms the Association’s own research into the optometry workforce and their view that there is no shortage of optometrist per capita in Australia and that “we probably have more optometrists per capita than any other country in the world”.

The problem for Australia, he said is essentially due to geography. “There are problems in getting optometrists to some places – for instance, in sparse rural areas – where there are 5,000 people over 5,000 sq miles – it’s almost impossible to have a full-time practice.”

Another problem the profession faces, he says, is that “employers, particularly of large companies, have difficulties finding staff… because many optometrists would rather be working for themselves.”

Corporates Vs Independents

While there are no official statistics that define the number of optometrists working independently as opposed to those working with corporates, Mr. Chakman believes “only about 30 – 35 per cent of all registered Optometrists work with corporate optical chains”.

Therefore, based on this assumption there could be up to 3,200 independent optometrists working in Australia.

But Mr. Chakman says with increasingly complex corporate structures in place, the definitions have blurred. “We find there is confusion – some people work at more than one location – and one of those locations may be a chain – so do they work for a corporate or as an independent… Additionally, one optometrist who owns a franchise may define themself as an independent, while another will say they work for a corporate.”

“As a professional association we have both employees and employers as members and we work hard to meet the needs of each group but there are certain issues that everyone wants to be taken care of, like Medicare benefits.”

Drop Off Not Likely

While it’s bound to be the case that some optometrists miss the 30 November deadline to re-register, and therefore lose their ability to practice, Mr. Chakman said it shouldn’t have a major impact on the number of optometrists practising around the country.

“I don’t think there will be a drop off in registered optometrists. The only people likely to drop off are those who’ve moved to other professions or older people who, until now, have maintained their registration for sentimental reasons – being an optometrist is part of your identity.”

Tony Martella, President of the Optometrists Association of Australia Western Australia (OAA WA), agreed. “We’ll see natural attrition from the older optometrists who don’t feel the need to spend the time or money maintaining their professional training requirements.”

Andrew McKinnon, President of the OAA in NSW agrees. “Right at the moment, my impression is the supply (of optometrists) is about right… but people dropping off the register won’t create an impact – my suspicion is most of the people in the group who think it doesn’t really matter (about attaining CPD) are probably reaching the end of their practicing careers or are part-time, so it won’t make that much of a difference.”

CPD Has Impact

Mr. Martella said that the introduction of the CPD requirements has noticeably impacted levels of people attending association training sessions and optometry conferences around the country. “The increase in numbers of around 30 per cent at both the AVC (Queensland) and SRC (Melbourne) show that optometrists have realised they must undertake professional development. They now have no excuse but to make time to get out and attend conferences or training seminars. And that’s a good thing – it’s going to ensure we maintain standards,” he said.

However in NSW, Andrew McKinnon, President of OAA NSW said that while many optometrists are pursuing their professional development requirements, others don’t seem to be taking it seriously.

“In NSW we have a concern that a number of people haven’t quite grasped how serious CPD and frequency of practice are. A decent number of people think that the world keeps turning and the new requirements really don’t matter. When the world stops turning, when they lose their registration, it might be a shock for them. At that point they may think ‘do I really want to do this?'”

If optometrists do not comply with the national requirement to attain 40 CPD activities every year, they will lose their registration and be unable to practice. Furthermore, regaining registration is a cumbersome process.

Requirements for CPD are outlined in the registration standard. Optometrists who hold a scheduled medicines endorsement must complete 20 of the 40 points each year in education related to the endorsement. There are also requirements for cardiopulmonary resuscitation training.

Most Say CPD A ‘Good Thing’

According to the OAA, most optometrists (aged 50 years and less) have embraced the idea of CPD and can see its value. They’re happy to pursue professional development and are enjoying the new scope this training offers them as professionals.

“The scope of our profession has increased with the introduction of therapeutics across the country, our ability to manage broader health issues, more research opportunities and clinical opportunities as well,” said Mr. Martella.

Mr. Chakman agreed. “I think most people recognise that CPD is necessary. They might object to the specifics of the particular training program but I don’t think they object to the idea of professional development as such.”