With a healthcare system in transition, optimistic ODs hope for expansion of our primary care responsibilities. While this is possible and perhaps even likely, the facts — facts supported by every workforce study going back to 1995 — suggest that there are already more than enough ODs to fill increased needs for the foreseeable future.
Charles Mullen (www.charlesmullen.com) recently published a guest editorial by Kenneth Myers that explored the issue in depth. It also examined the 2014 Eye Care Workforce Study conducted by Lewin Associates. Know that Mullen and Myers are among the most important and influential leaders in the modern history of our profession and neither have any axe to grind other than concern for our profession and patients.
In the editorial, Myers notes that since 2006, six new optometry schools have opened and three more are still planned. Since 1985, the number of graduates has increased from slightly over 1,000 to 1,600 this year, with more to come.
Consider all of this against the backdrop of an unstable healthcare environment, crippling student debt, shrinking applicant pools and the likelihood of technology-driven increases in practitioner efficiency. The impact on the profession remains to be seen, but from where I stand, the future is far less bright than it was when I started.
Optometry today is dramatically more advanced than it was in 1985. We owe that to the vision, commitment and tenacity of those who came before us. Likewise, we all share responsibility to those who will come after us. When asked about the future of our profession, honesty is not only the best policy, but it can also be a powerful tool in helping to balance the needs of the profession and our patients.
Off the Cuff: When is Enough Way Too Much? was written by Arthur B. Epstein, OD, FAAO and Chief Medical Editor of Optometric Physician. It was published September 29, 2014.