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By Helen Carter

Journalist

The number of registered optometrists in Australia has increased by 30.1 per cent over the past decade, compared with the nation’s 12.1 per cent population growth, a new study shows.

The study, published in Clinical and Experimental Optometry, analysed data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) about new entrants to the profession and their initial practice location from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2018.

The snapshot reveals new entrants to the optometry profession can be generalised as graduates of an Australian optometry program, female, aged in their early‐mid 20s and qualified for therapeutic practice.

Deakin University researchers and optometrists Jane Duffy and Amanda Douglass, and former Deakin colleagues, CooperVision Senior Scientist David Hammond and Conjoint Professor at UNSW Craig Woods, assessed the number, demographics and geographic distribution of new entrants to the optometry profession in Australia with an aim to assist planning for workforce requirements.

‘Concerns have been expressed about the size of the optometry workforce in a context of increasing numbers of graduating optometrists,’ they said.

They analysed data for 1,680 new entrants to the profession and found:

  • 66 per cent of new entrants were female
  • Overall 80 per cent graduated from an Australian university
  • 11 per cent graduated from the optometry program in New Zealand, nearly one-third of whom commenced practice in South Australia
  • 7 per cent were graduates of an overseas university; 60 per cent of overseas‐trained entrants were from the UK or Ireland; and 42 per cent of new entrants (51 of 122) commencing practice in Western Australia were graduates of an overseas institution
  • 2 per cent registered via the Trans‐Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement
  • Graduates of Australian universities tended to commence practice in the state in which they trained (77 per cent) or an adjacent state or territory
  • 75 per cent of entrants commenced practice in a major Australian city

‘Coincident with the newer optometry programs producing graduates is the increased number of optometrists entering the Australian workforce over the past decade, with the majority commencing practice in major cities,’ they wrote.

Over the eight‐year period of the study, the number of optometrists practising in Australia increased 30.1 per cent from 4,442 (30 June 2011) to 5,781 (30 June 2019). Over the same period the Australian population increased by 12.1 per cent.

‘This suggests that, if this trend continues, the size of the optometry workforce in Australia is likely to exceed demand for its services – a view that has complexity and contention,’ the researchers concluded.

‘An unexpected finding was the strong flow toward Australia of graduates of the program in New Zealand, with 180 commencing practice in Australia during the eight‐year review period.

‘This was not a two‐way flow, as only 64 Australia‐registered optometrists relied on the TTMRA to register in New Zealand during the same period.’

Many New Zealand‐trained optometrists commenced practice in South Australia (44 of 150 new entrants.)

‘Western Australia in particular does not have as steady a supply of new graduates as other Australian states and territories. This is reflected in the high proportion – 42 per cent (51 of 122) – of the new entrants commencing practice in Western Australia being graduates of an overseas institution (including New Zealand),’ researchers wrote.

Optometry Australia’s Optometry 2040 project and Resilient Futures workshops are helping to steer optometrists towards their preferred futures, address concerns about over-supply and look for future pathways and career options to ensure there is a bright future and sufficient employment opportunities for the nation’s optometrists.

Optometry Australia’s General Manager, Policy Skye Cappuccio said: ‘We believe the expertise of our highly skilled optometry workforce is underutilised in the health system, and that there are multiple opportunities to employ optometrists across the health system in ways that address unmet needs for eye care.’

Watch our video, providing an overview of the future of optometry here, and read the Optometry 2040 project summary report here.

Optometry Australia’s CEO Lyn Brodie with optometry students at our inaugural Student Leadership Program in 2019

Filed in category: ECOs & students, Workforce
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