Certification by ABCMO as a board-certified specialist in Medical Optometry requires three achievements beyond those required for licensing as a general practice optometrist. Those requirements are:
- Completing a post-graduate, one-year clinical residency training in the recognition and treatment of diseases and functional disorders affecting human visual tracts. A one-year ACOE accredited residency at a Joint Commission accredited medical hospital is required.
- Passage of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry specialty examination, Advanced Competence in Medical Optometry.
- Submitting an application to ABCMO that documents having met all the requirements for ABCMO Board Certification as a specialist in Medical Optometry.
But, equally important as the clinical ability gained while meeting the above requirements, is having learned to practice within a medical facility where skills in professional interactions, referrals, patient reviews, and rounds are learned by working with different professionals in an environment where, as a medical staff member, one is regularly evaluated by peer review and expected to attend rounds and regular case reviews.
The ability to be credentialed in these skills first became possible when the Veterans Administration (VA) opened the first hospital residency program for graduate optometrists in 1975.
A Shift Towards Hospital-Based Health Care
A revolution in how health care is delivered began in 1980. Now, the majority of medical physicians no longer own independent private office practices and, increasingly, are employed by, or affiliated with, large hospitals and clinics.
Once, most pharmacists owned their retail pharmacy or worked in one owned by a pharmacist, but 5 of the largest big box store chains today employ fully 80% of all licensed pharmacists. Pharmacy reacted by adopting the Pharmacy doctoral degree and developing specialty residencies for those seeking to practice within medical facilities. Many of these are at VA medical facilities.
Another example, Audiologists no longer earn a Masters Degree but instead a Doctor of Audiology degree and prefer clinical practice rather than retail practice.
This transformation of health care into a commodity sold to the public by advertising emphasizing cost-savings and convenience accelerated when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claimed advertising by professionals lowered costs and should be permitted. This led the American Academy of Optometry (and many other professional societies) to remove restrictions on advertising by their memberships.
This transformation had a profound effect on retail optometrists especially after the FTC announced a study comparing advertising to non-advertising optometrists “showed” no difference in the accuracy of eyeglass prescriptions issued to FTC investigators. Unfortunately, the FTC did not reveal that its study had actually shown:
- Advertising optometrists ranked last in the quality of the eye exams they performed.
- Examinations by non-advertising optometrists ranked significantly higher.
- Examinations by Fellows of the American Academy of Optometry ranked even higher in their quality.
Had the FTC merely read past issues of the leading national consumer-oriented publication at the time they would have learned through surveys of readers’ opinions about their optometry exams that optometrists who did not advertise were rated significantly higher in the quality and thoroughness of their examinations than those provided by retail advertising optometry stores.
The Rise of Hospital Specialties in Optometry, Pharmacy, Audiology, and Podiatry
The majority of those entering training in health care professions do not expect, nor plan to practice, in a retail setting as they anticipate their clinical skills will erode from underutilization. Pharmacy is a prime example and while the majority of pharmacy graduates still practice at the retail level, an impressive number of hospital specialty residencies for pharmacy graduates have been created in the last 25 years and entry into them is highly competitive. Podiatry and audiology have also followed the same path.
In 1975 the first hospital optometry residency was established at a VA hospital. Funded by the VA Office of Academic Affiliations in Washington, it was a start towards creating a cadre of optometrists trained to practice in VA hospitals because at that time the VA’s 172 hospitals had but a total of 6 optometrists on their combined medical staffs. By contrast, military hospitals and HMOs at that time had over 1,000 optometrists on their medical staffs.
Today some 220 VA residencies in medical optometry exist and over 1,400 4th year optometry students serve one or more VA rotations prior to graduation. Overall, about 28% of optometry graduates choose to enter a residency of which the majority are based at VA medical facilities and center around the specialty of Medical Optometry.
The current Optometry Residency Matching System (ORMS) was created and first operated by Dr. Charles Haines, a former VA clinical optometrist. After he retired he donated it to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry which now makes residency matches.
It is hoped this Reflection will assist optometry students considering whether a residency in Medical Optometry is for them by highlighting how it is primarily designed to train those seeking to practice within an accredited medical facility, or as a faculty member, rather than in a retail facility.
Currently, Medical Optometry is the only optometry specialty aligned with the three steps of board certification described above that is also recognized by credentialing committees at over 130 Joint Commission accredited medical facilities across the nation.
To learn more about Pharmacy, the split between “Retail” and “Clinical” career paths, the role of Residencies in education and training, and the development of Clinical Pharmacy Specialists please review Retail and Clinical Pharmacy