A long-time patient of mine will be entering her first year of optometry school this fall semester. Her personal experience with vision therapy and sports vision training at our office helped shape her decision about optometry as a career. When I was asked to write a letter of recommendation, it made me think about what the future has in store for today’s students and why optometry is still an attractive career choice.
It’s true that optometric students are generally graduating with large debt, there’s controversy regarding board certification, and the future of health care and insurance in the U.S. is still unclear. So with all these issues to consider, what makes optometry such an appealing profession?
I recently read a report on how optometry was among the best-paying, low-stress careers. One of the things I feel that has contributed to optometry making the list and making it most attractive for those considering it as a career is its flexibility in practicing. Not only can doctors choose between full- and part-time, but there are numerous practice settings. Private practice, corporate retail optical stores, and big box stores each have their advantages (and of course, challenges). Some optometrists enjoy the freedom from managing a corporate practice. Others aspire to oversee and grow a private practice and enjoy the advantages of ownership. Throughout doctors’ careers, they even have the option to change which of these settings they’d prefer to practice in.
In addition to the various practice settings, as optometrists we have a large scope of practice. If you’re ever tired of performing refractions all day, optometry has never seen a larger opportunity for diagnosing and treating disease. Areas of specialization such as vision therapy, contact lenses, and many others offer the opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition.
The retail side of optometry is certainly different than it was a generation ago. With competition from large retailers and online stores, selling glasses and contact lenses does not generate the revenue it used to. However, in the majority of practices, optical sales is still the largest revenue stream, not medical office visits. It’s important to keep the retail side of optometry strong—the most successful practices focus highly on growth in both the medical and retail aspects.
With its combination of flexible hours, different practice settings, broad scope of practice, and good salary, optometry still looks very promising. I’m just glad I’m not a new graduate with all those loans to pay off.
Eric L. Bran, OD, Professional Editor