Australian Optometry Workforce – Are There Too Many Optometrists?

Is the Australian Optometry Workforce big enough to provide for the eye care needs of all Australians?

In short: No.

This is the view of the Immigration Department which has, against the advice of the Optometrist Association, put optometry on the register of occupations which are in short supply.

There is a shortage of many skills in Australia, particularly in the trades and resources sector. The commodities boom in the growth states of WA and Queensland has led to overall shortage of skilled and unskilled workers. This is evidenced by the wages explosion, caused by employers out bidding each other for scarce workers.

Given that there is an overall skills shortage, and an aging population is it surprising that optometry businesses are having difficulty acquiring staff. Clearly these businesses are the one who have influenced the actions of the Immigration Department.

But is there actually an under supply of optometrists?

One thing is certain, there is no shortage of optometry businesses. Even the smallest shopping centre has at least 2. In the bigger shopping centers there are often 6 to 8. If there was a shortage of optometrists, potential patients would have to wait months to have an eye exam. Most members of the Australian public can get an eye exam within an hour.

If we look at the academic research, a study by Horton et al in 2005 found that the average optometrist did 1825 eye exams per year. That equates to about 8 consultations per day. They assumed that the average exam would take 45 mins. This means that the average optometrist spends 6 hour per day consulting with patients.

Clear there is excess capacity in the optometry workforce. However, this excess capacity is probably significantly understated by Horton et al.

Horton et al made an extremely questionable assumption. They assumed that the average exam take 45 mins. Anecdotal evidence suggests hat 30 mins would be more accurate. This means they have probably overestimated the time optometrists spend consulting by 50%. The average optometrist spends just 4 hours per day working with patients.

What is the consequence of this? There is a significant shortage of patients. The Australian population would have to double to 40 million in order to soak up all the spare capacity that exists.

The lack of optometrists is in fact and oversupply of optical businesses. Each one of these businesses is trying to secure the services of an optometrist. Once employed, the optometrist spends half their day idly waiting for patients to arrive.

Source by Andrew Pearson Gay

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