The retirement of baby boomers and a dramatic change in the gender balance of our optometry workforce make it imperative that we act now to ensure our profession remains well resourced.
I remember having a discussion with the Association Council, 10 years ago, about the looming baby boomer retirement bubble and what that would mean for the profession in the future.
Fast forward to 2018, and for the first time we are starting to see that dilemma in action in a significant way. For years we have known that the large cohort of baby boomer optometrists – mostly males and many located in rural and regional areas – would come to the end of their working lives in a narrow band of time. That time is upon us.
Over that same period, the demographic of young optometrists (along with many other professions) has changed dramatically – and the two are not offsetting each other.
Our newer cohort is largely young women and predominantly city-centric. The retiring cohort is largely male and often regionallybased. The dichotomy is obvious.
No number of citybased optometrists will offset the loss of, for example, Tony Lord in West Wyalong
Apart from gender, the older males almost all worked full time for the entirety of their working lives. Our newer colleagues will typically work part time for a large part of their careers (once parenting and family duties come into play) – which creates a very interesting (and potentially problematic) gap between current and future service availability.
How do we address this gap?
We could ask universities to graduate more optometrists, on the basis that, for example, two half-time optometrists = one full timer. That works mathematically, but is very expensive socially.
And how do we address location variances? No number of city-based optometrists will offset the loss of, for example, Tony Lord in West Wyalong.
This is not a problem that is unique to optometry, and because of that, a lot of collective thought has been thrown at the issue. Ideas like bringing practitioners in from overseas and bonding them to regional areas is a current hot topic of debate and over time we’ve also explored the notions of restricted Medicare provider numbers, higher rebates for regional practitioners, subsidised housing… and an almost endless number of other options.
The problem is, none of these ideas have passed ‘the pub test’ – apart from the imported practitioner option, which is having some success in regional towns and cities in medicine and dentistry.
So, while the answer to the question of future resourcing remains, “not sure yet”, a lot of mind power (across many professions) is actively looking for solutions.
O Q/NT has achieved many successful milestones this year. Australian Vision Convention (AVC) and North Queensland Vision (NQV) definitely stand out as some of the most memorable achievements to date.
For the first time in 11 years, we held AVC in our hometown of Brisbane. It was a change of scenery from our usual Surfers Paradise location and we received great feedback from delegates who were particularly impressed with our program, the sponsored breakfast, and workshops.
Feedback from NVC in beautiful Cairns in July was unanimously positive, with many claiming it was the best NVC yet. Our delegates and exhibitors tend to love NQV as the conference delivers a more intimate experience, providing opportunities to mingle with colleagues and spend one on one time with the exhibitors.
Following the success of our conventions in 2018, the O Q/NT team and board are extremely eager to return even bigger and better in 2019. With the Commonwealth Games moving to a new city, we are happy to announce that AVC will return to the Marriot Resort and Spa in Surfers Paradise over the weekend of 13–14 April 2019. As for NQV, you definitely need to stay tuned as we have some big things in store.