COMMENTARY

A Snapshot in Time of the Optometry Workforce

Christina M. Sorenson, OD

Disclosures

November 24, 2014

Editor's note: In 2012, the American Optometric Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry commissioned the Lewin Group to conduct the National Eye Care Workforce Survey of Optometrists. The goal was to develop a model to predict future changes in the supply and demand of eye care. The results were recently released in two parts: the survey of optometrists[1] and the workforce supply-and-demand projections.[2] In the commentary below, Christina M. Sorenson, OD, discusses the findings of the workforce survey. A future column will address the supply-and-demand projections.

The National Eye Care Workforce Survey provides an interesting snapshot of the optometric profession in its current iteration. Specifically, the data reveal optometrists' hours worked, weeks worked, and visit numbers, by age and sex.

The supply-and-demand projections are generated through the year 2025 by a computer-based model. The model used extrapolated data from the National Eye Care Workforce Survey, with additional information about the supply of optometrists and ophthalmologists gathered from several sources, including the recent graduate capacity of each profession and the attrition rate from each profession.

Overall, I found the survey findings provocative. The data[1] are drawn from a sample of 721 practicing optometrists, which gives a reported 3.6% margin of error at a 95% confidence interval. The demographics of the responding optometrists are balanced for region, sex, age, ethnicity, and race.

The principal employment setting is self-employed, reported by 70.31% of optometrists; the remainder are employed by others. An interesting and understandable trend is that the optometrist younger than 35 years is more likely to be an employee (76.67%), regardless of sex.

The weekly hours worked, as reported by the optometrists surveyed, were not surprising. Optometrists work an average of 40 hours per week throughout their careers, regardless of age. Female optometrists work fewer than 40 hours per week on average.

Most optometrists (66.7%) practice in a single location, whereas about one fourth of the profession practices in two locations. Even fewer practice in three (< 5%) or four (< 3%) locations. The data suggest a trend for younger optometrists to work in multiple locations, which could be consistent with being an employee rather than a self-employed optometrist.

On average, optometrists take 4.5 weeks of vacation yearly. It might be interesting to see whether these findings vary by region of the country.

The findings on patient care visits are surprising. The average number of patient care visits per week was 63. This translates to an average of 1.6 visits per hour. This implies an extended face-to-face component in the typical optometric practice. Conversely, there is a reported 32% availability in the typical office. This manpower excess will be interesting to account for when the supply-and-demand projections are highlighted in a future column.

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