What is Optometry
Optometry is a health care profession. Optometrists care for their patients' vision in the same way that medical practitioners care for their patient's general health. An optometrist's skill is based on an intimate knowledge of the workings of the eye and visual system. A variety of complex techniques and instruments complement an understanding of the patient's needs.
An optometric examination begins with the optometrist taking a detailed case history, to determine what visual problems the patient may be experiencing, as well as other relevant information about their health and visual needs. The optometrist then performs a series of tests, some of which are carried out routinely and others when indicated by the patient's case history and the results of other tests. The consultation concludes with the optometrist's diagnosis of the patient's problem, explaining the diagnosis to the patient and deciding on appropriate treatment. Treatments can include prescribing suitable spectacles, contact lenses or eye exercises, prescribing medications to treat infections or other eye diseases, or simply giving advice on lighting, visual habits or other issues.
An important part of an optometrist's work is the detection and diagnosis of eye disease. When an optometrist detects a visual complaint which requires medical or surgical treatment the patient may be referred to a general medical practitioner or an ophthalmologist.
In some instances optometrists have therapeutic endorsement of their registration that allows them to prescribe a range of medications to treat some eye diseases.
Some optometrists develop special interests in a particular aspect of vision care, including:
- contact lens practice
- low vision
- sports vision
- children's vision
- consulting in industry
What does Optometry offer
Caring for people’s vision through a career in optometry is rewarding. Most new graduates work initially as employees of optometrists in private practice, with large optical chains, in public clinics and occasionally with ophthalmologists. Many graduates aim to eventually become privately practising optometrists.
Optometrists in private practice enjoy:
- great satisfaction in helping their patients overcome vision problems
- a responsible position in the community as a health professional
- the opportunity to be self-employed, either as a partner or a sole practitioner
- substantial monetary remuneration, particularly where they own or part-own a practice
- dealing directly with people for most of their working day
- comfortable working conditions
- the ability to attend congresses to interact with peers and learn about new developments in the profession
- the ability to work as an optometrist in many overseas countries
- the chance to help the less fortunate with participation in eye outreach programs
- being a member of a profession with a sound future. Optometry is one of the fastest-growing professions in Australia - between 1994 and 2011 the number of Australians using optometric services doubled and is expected to continue growing.
Optometry graduates also have the opportunity to involve themselves in activities outside private practice such as vision research, teaching and administration and working for various professional organisations in the industry.
What attributes are needed
A good optometrist will enjoy working with people of all ages and have a genuine desire to help their patients.
A strong academic background is needed, as optometry courses are challenging and generally have limited places.
Once in practice, optometrists need to have an interest in continued learning and professional development. This should include clinical knowledge to help in patient care and practice management to further develop business acumen.
The optometry degree
Entry-level optometry programs are available at the following Australian universities:
- Queensland University of Technology (QUT)
- University of New South Wales (UNSW)
- Flinders University, South Australia
- University of Melbourne
- Deakin University, Geelong
Assistance to students
Special arrangements may be made to assist students living in states without an Optometry school who are considering optometry as a career. The state divisions of Optometry Australia offer scholarships from time to time and they are generally offered to students from those states without a school of optometry (Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania). Information on scholarships available to people living in rural, remote and regional areas to study at an undergraduate or entry level is available here.
Optometry course content
An optometry degree covers subjects such as anatomy, physiology of vision, optics, pharmacology and histology, and the final years are devoted to clinical instruction in the management of vision problems. Most of the final year is spent working in a clinical environment under supervision in contact with patients.
What should I study in high school
There is considerable competition for places in optometry courses, and places are largely determined by marks obtained in the final year of secondary school. Optometry courses are based on sciences, including biology, physics and chemistry so a thorough background in these subjects is valuable and may in fact be a prerequisite for students entering the course. For more information, contact your school’s Career Advisor or one of the universities offering optometry courses (See below for details).
Where optometrists work
Most Australian optometrists are either self-employed or work for other optometrists in private practice. Optometric practices are like those of doctors or dentists and are usually located in office-type premises in or near shopping areas.
Sometimes optometrists work outside their practices, for example visiting homes of bedridden or house-bound patients, acting as a consultant to firms or factories at their premises, or working at health care institutions such as hospitals, community health centres or special clinics.
A small number of optometrists do not enter private practice after completing their course but continue their studies through research and teaching. These optometrists are called vision scientists and usually obtain higher qualifications such as a master’s degree or a Ph.D.
Legislative controls and ethics of the profession
There is national legislation controlling the practice of optometry in Australia, which is administered by the Optometry Board of Australia. Only registered optometrists can practise optometry. The functions of the Optometry Board of Australia include:
- registering optometrists and students
- developing standards, codes and guidelines for the optometry profession
- handling notifications, complaints, investigations and disciplinary hearings
- assessing overseas trained practitioners who wish to practise in Australia
- approving accreditation standards and accredited courses of study.
To maintain their registration optometrists must undertake a specified amount of continuing professional development each year after the completion of their university course. This is also essential to keep in touch with the new developments in the profession.
Virtually all Australian optometrists participate in Medicare, ensuring that all Australians can conveniently and inexpensively receive the eye care they need. Medicare pays benefits to patients for examinations given by optometrists (this does not include fees for spectacles or contact lenses) meaning that the Australian community is eligible to receive a subsidy on a full eye health examination every two years.
Other eye care professions
Medical practitioners who specialise in the treatment of eye disease and surgery are known as ophthalmologists. They may also be called eye specialists, eye surgeons or eye doctors. Optometrists refer patients needing surgery or treatment of some eye diseases to ophthalmologists. Spectacles are made up by optical dispensers, who complete a technical course which enables them to make up spectacles to an optometrist's or ophthalmologist's prescription. They are not permitted to examine eyes or to write prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses.
Overseas trained optometrists
Optometry Schools in Australia