After much debate about supply vs demand of optometry professionals and hence whether there is a need for more Schools of Optometry within Australia, the University of Western Australia (UWA) has commenced its first Doctor of Optometry Degree.
According to UWA, the Doctor of Optometry program, which is part of a partnership between UWA, Lions Eye Institute, and optometry industry leaders, responds to the following challenges:
- A projected critical shortage of optometrists in Western Australia by 2030, particularly in regional and remote regions,
- The pressing need to close the gap in Indigenous eye health; the rate of blindness among Indigenous Australians is three times higher than non-Indigenous Australians,
- The social and economic implications of an increasing disease burden due to Australia’s ageing, and growing population, and
- Subsequent challenges in managing the ocular complications of chronic diseases such as diabetes, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.
UWA received 188 applicants, the quality of which was outstanding, according to Professor Garry Fitzpatrick, Head of Division, Optometry at UWA, who said offers were made to students after an exhaustive selection process. To be eligible to enter the course, candidates had to have successfully completed a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science or equivalent, have achieved a UWA faculty grade point average of at least 5.0, undertaken an online Situational Judgement Test (CASPer) and attended an interview.
“Many would not have chosen optometry as a future profession if the course was not offered in Western Australia. This is WA’s only optometry program, designed specifically to tackle the increasing eye complications from chronic diseases and conditions suffered by millions of Australians.”
The first cohort for the course, which commenced on 22 February 2021, comprises 50 students; 44 from Western Australia, two from New South Wales, two Victorians, one Queenslander and one international student already based in Perth. While no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Peoples enrolled in the program, Prof Fitzpatrick said this is something that he and other universities are focussed on.
“All optometry programs in Australia and New Zealand are working to achieve indigenous engagement and enrolment in their programs. UWA Optometry is actively working towards attracting and supporting Indigenous and rural students into our optometry program,” he said.
RURAL PLACEMENT FOCUS
While students interested in optometry previously had to relocate to the East Coast of Australia at considerable cost, the UWA course makes study far more accessible for local students.
“Educating optometrists locally in WA will allow the University to develop leaders to serve our communities and reach those who live in rural and remote areas,” said Prof Fitzpatrick.
Asked how UWA will differentiate its course from others available in Australia, he said, “Our third year of the Doctor of Optometry program is working with our strategic partners, Lions Outback Vision, WACRH, MAJARLIN and the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia to develop its unique rural clinical placement strategy. Together we are saving sight and improving lives by educating, assisting, guiding and challenging the next generation to learn the theoretical and clinical skills of an optometrist that focuses on the diverse needs of our communities.”
OPTOMETRY AUSTRALIA SUPPORT
Optometry Australia has previously expressed concerns about a potential oversupply of optometrists as a consequence of new Schools of Optometry. However Lyn Brodie, the Association’s National Chief Executive Officer and Evan MacRae, Chief Executive Officer of Optometry Western Australia, have both committed to supporting the University and its students.
“Optometry Australia engages and works closely with the seven optometry schools in Australia, including the new school at UWA,” said Ms Brodie.
“Workforce management is crucial in adding value to the health and well-being of the community. We work with the entire eye and broader health sector, including academia, to ensure that optometrists can work to full scope and maintain quality skills though maximisation of employment.
“Our members are concerned about oversupply. In a survey conducted by Optometry Australia amongst our membership in May 2020, 76% of our members said that they believed salaries would be compromised due to oversupply and 61% believe it will become increasingly difficult to find employment as an optometrist.”
In the February issue of mivision, Mr MacRae said OWA would welcome UWA students to educational and networking events and “will work with UWA to focus on initiatives involving the expansion of employment in the public hospital system and longer student placements in regional areas to fulfil unmet demand”.