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HomemiprofessionSmall Towns, Big Horizons: Regional Optometry

Small Towns, Big Horizons: Regional Optometry

Moving to a regional setting has opened the eyes of new optometrist Sophie Bach to the dire need for increased access to eye health services in rural and remote Australia.

After graduating from Flinders University in 2020, I worked for 12 months at OPSM Salisbury, a northern suburb of Adelaide. Salisbury has a high proportion of low-income households – just over 25%1 – and I developed a keen interest in providing eye care to socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

The volume of Amsler grids that we manage to get through at OPSM Wynyard speaks to the demographic we serve

When the opportunity arose in February last year for me to move to OPSM Burnie, on the northwest coast of Tasmania, I saw it as an exciting next step. Burnie is another area where there’s an increased proportion of residents in the lowest income quartile.2

Since moving to Burnie, I have witnessed first-hand the impacts of limited access to healthcare services, specifically optometry services. And I have observed the resultant poorer health and vision outcomes for the residents of this region.

I’m part of OPSM’s Northwest Tasmanian optometry team, which also works out of Wynyard. OPSM Wynyard is a small regional practice that’s open every Tuesday and Thursday.

The focus of the Wynyard practice is on providing care to the elderly living in this region who are often less able to access eye care services due to travel requirements. The volume of Amsler grids that we manage to get through at OPSM Wynyard speaks to the demographic we serve and the high incidence of pathology, especially age-related macular degeneration and diabetic complications.

The Wynyard and Burnie practices also provide eye care services to the communities that reside along the west coast of Tasmania, which currently has no local optometry services. In some cases, patients have to travel for several hours for their eye examination. The fact that we provide these services is valuable to these communities who otherwise would have had to travel much further or would have simply not sought care.

Broader Horizons

Working in a regional setting has broadened my scope of practice. For example, I have greater exposure to cases of ocular trauma when compared to my time working in a metropolitan setting.

Unusual cases, paired with comparatively less ophthalmology services, result in greater levels of co-management between optometrists and ophthalmologists in the region.

I have noticed an increased number of patients who present to our Wynyard practice who have moved from a metropolitan setting and have become lost to follow-up, having previously been under ophthalmology care for glaucoma. Often these patients have not had an eye examination for upwards of five years and have either discontinued their management or have been provided repeat prescriptions for their eye drops from a general practitioner.

These cases highlight the importance of accessible optometry services in regional communities like Wynyard to provide management options for individuals who may otherwise experience adverse health and vision outcomes due to poor access to services.

Lifestyle Benefits

Living and practising on the northwest coast of Tasmania is not only a rewarding experience professionally, but also an incredible opportunity to enjoy all that Tasmania has to offer from a lifestyle perspective.

There is so much to enjoy here: incredible coast lines with beautiful views of Bass Strait, heritage-listed wilderness, and adorable wildlife such as pademelons, echidnas, and platypus – all in your backyard!

I recommend all young optometrists take the opportunity to work in a regional or remote location. It is a wonderful opportunity to make a real change to the vision and health outcomes of underserved communities, while also enjoying a broader scope of practice, which fosters personal and professional development.

Sophie Bach graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Vision Science) / Master of Optometry from Flinders University in 2020. She practises at OPSM Burnie and Wynyard in Tasmania.

1. .id, City of Salisbury, Community Profile – Household Income, available at profile.id.com.au/salisbury/household-income [accessed 7 March 2023].
2. .id, State Growth Tasmania. Community Profile – Burnie City, Household Income Quartiles available at profile.id.com.au/tasmania/household-income-quartiles [accessed 7 March 2023].