Optometry Board Australia’s latest data on registrants (to 30 March 2018) reveals that the gender gap continues to widen among younger age groups, with 604 women and 302 men aged 25–29 and 264 women and 96 men aged under 25 registered to practice.
Over all age groups, registered optometrists in Australia comprised:
VICTORIA LEADS GROWTH
Optometrists registered to practice in Australia number 5,521, up from 5,339 one year ago (March 2017), representing an increase of 3.4 per cent. Victoria had the strongest growth, followed by NSW.
A comprehensive projection study Optometry Australia commissioned suggests that if current modes of practice continue, we will have more optometrists than required…
Fifty-seven per cent (3,044) of all registered optometrists are therapeutically endorsed. Northern Territory leads the way with 75 per cent of its registered optometrists therapeutically endorsed, although on relatively low total numbers. Victoria now has 72.7 per cent of registered optometrists therapeutically endorsed followed by South Australia with 68.5 per cent. Just 45.5 per cent of registered optometrists in New South Wales are therapeutically endorsed optometrists.
SUPPLY DEBATE CONTINUES
Continued growth in the number of optometrists has been welcomed by Specsavers however, Optometry Australia cautions that growth is not required.
“A comprehensive projection study Optometry Australia commissioned suggests that if current modes of practice continue, we will have more optometrists than required to meet community demand in the near future,” said Lyn Brodie, Chef Executive Officer of Optometry Australia. “This is problematic – oversupply of health practitioners can lead to poorer employment conditions and less opportunity for practitioners to utilise the full scope of their professional skills. We continue to advocate for Government funding of university places to consider community need for optometrists, and are hopeful that recent changes in university funding may stem the growth in optometry student numbers.”
Charles Hornor, Director of Communications at Specsavers, disputes the likelihood of an oversupply, explaining that due to year on year store growth, his organisation “currently has an active vacancy list of 165 optometry positions and expects to need a further 70 optometrists this year alone. In the past 12 months, Specsavers has recruited 128 graduates, and would have recruited 150 as requested by its partners, had there been a sufficient graduate supply. Retention of optometrtists at Specsavers continued to be high at 97 per cent.
“The ultimate litmus test for oversupply vs. undersupply is the employment rate and, in effect, there is no unemployment among optometrists – indeed there has been ever increasing competition for signatures since we opened our first practices in 2008,” said Mr. Hornor. “Salaries continue to rise as the number of optometry practices grows, as current practices expand their total numbers of consulting rooms and patient demand continues to increase. “Since 2015, as per Graduate Careers Australia’s ‘Graduate Salaries’ Report, first-job starting salaries for graduating optometrists average AU$80,000, taking into account all modes of practice across the profession. This is the highest starting salary for any graduate position in Australia (more than dentistry, medical, law, accounting et al),” Mr. Hornor said.
AN AGEING POPULATION
The Australian prescription optical market has more than trebled in size, from some $800 million of annual sales in 2007 to a predicted $3 billion1 this year. Last year demand for eye tests grew year on year by close to 6 per cent.2 Added to this, predicted growth of 50 per cent in the over 65s market and 30 per cent total population, from 2011-2030, Mr. Hornor says the future is clear: “competition for the available optometrists in the market is tougher than ever and will continue, as evidenced by the rise in the number of recruitment and jobs ads in publications and on websites such as mivision”.
Ms. Brodie concedes that an increasing number of optometrists does bring benefit to the Australian community. “There is opportunity in the increasing optometrist per population ratio. This includes to support better eye care access in disadvantaged and under serviced communities, and to ensure that our ageing population has timely access to the eye care they need.
“There has been a steady growth in the number of Australians accessing eye care, and with an ageing population and increasing rates of myopia, there will be increasing need for optometric care,” said Ms. Brodie. She continued, “Even considering this, indications are that, without change, there will soon be more optometrists than required to meet community demand. We are advocating for changes to support more sustainable growth in the profession, and also working with the profession to help ensure we take advantage of the opportunities of a growing, highly skilled, optometry workforce.”
Ms. Brodie said the workforce is a focus of Optometry 2040 – Taking Control of Our Future, the Optometry Association’s project, which aims to identify optometrists’ preferred plausible futures and develop strategies to achieve them.
1. www.ibisworld.com.au/industry-trends/market-researchreports/ health-care-social-assistance/optometry-opticaldispensing. html