Please note that since this article has been published, new data has shown that an oversupply of optometrists in Australia is predicted from 2016.
It was only back in February 2014 that My Health Career published an article “Are we training too many optometrists in Australia?” after piecing together workforce data from sources including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Optometry Board of Australia and the Optometrists Association of Australia. In March, Health Workforce Australia (HWA) has released its report from as part of Australia’s Health Workforce Series – “Optometrists in Focus.” What is rather interesting is that HWA used data from the National Health Workforce Dataset, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Department of Education and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and came up with a similar conclusion that we did! Here’s what’s happening….
The HWA data showed that the number of student commencements in accredited optometry courses in Australia over the last few years was 208 in 2008, 218 in 2009, 173 in 2010, 190 in 2011 and 366 in 2012. Course completions in the last few years was 155 in 2008, 105 in 2009, 130 in 2010, 203 in 2011 and 151 in 2012.
According to HWA, there were 15 optometrists per 100,000 population in Australia in 2006, which increased to 16.2 in 2011. However, there are still shortages of optometrists in remote and very remote areas in Australia. HWA stated “Two new courses that are underway at Deakin University in Victoria and Flinders University in South Australia, which both aim to educate optometrists for practise in rural and regional Australia, may result in an increase in optometrists in rural and remote Australia in future.”
However, HWA also noted that “if the increased number of student commencements translate into greater numbers of graduates entering the workforce in the next five years, this will have impacts for the industry in terms of the availability of jobs at levels suited to graduates and early career optometrists.”
A summary of the optometric workforce from 2012
There were 4,564 registered optometrists in Australia:
- 92.7% were in the workforce – either working (96.1%), looking for work (0.4%) or on extended leave (3.5%)
- Of those in the workforce, 96% were working, and of these, 95% were working as clinicians, 1.5% were administrators, 1.4% were a teacher/educator, 1.4% were in research and 0.5% were “other”
- The average age of a male optometrist was 44.5 years, and the average age of a female optometrist was 37.4 years
- 48.2% of optometrists were female
- The percentage of male optometrists aged 55 and over was 22.8%, with 7.0% of female optometrists being over 55 years of age (this is one of the statistics that shows what has been referred to as the “feminisation” of the profession of optometry in Australia)
- 7 employed optometrists reported Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status
- 85% reported that their first qualification as an optometrist was gained in Australia
- 44.3% worked in a group private practice (e.g. OPSM, Specsavers, The Optical Superstore), 34.1% in a solo private practice, 8.3% locuming in private practice, 2.6% in an education facility, 1.0% in community health services, 0.4% in a hospital and 0.2% in a residential health care facility
- There was a maldistribution of optometrists, these being 19.9 per 100,000 population in major cities, 15.4 in inner regional areas, 10.5 in outer regional areas, 8.2 in remote and 2.9 in very remote areas (average across Australia 17.9).
- Three Medicare Local catchments in Sydney are among the top five in Australia for the greatest number of optometrists per 100,000 population, the highest being Eastern Sydney with 61