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Should optometrists be calling themselves doctors?

Optometry, The Health Industry

The Optometry Board of Australia has recently reminded optometrists that there is no provision in the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law that prohibits a practitioner from using titles such as “doctor”, but has given a warning on the potential to mislead or deceive if the title isn’t applied in a clear manner.

The Board has stated that those who are not registered medical practitioners but choose to adopt the title “Dr” in the advertising of their services should clearly state their profession so as to not mislead the public. The Board has said that an example of an acceptable way of using the title doctor is “Dr Isobel Jones (Optometrist)”.

Rose Huang, committee member of Young Optometrists NSW / ACT approached some of her colleagues regarding the use of the title “Doctor” and found a vast variation in the views and use of this term:

  • One colleague does not use the term “Doctor” as she does not believe she is a doctor. She only ever refers to herself as Ms, in her business cards and also when she signs off her referrals
  • Another optometrist who has not actually completed the therapeutics course refers to herself as a “Doctor”, which is very unusual seeing as we are only considered therapeutic goods provider. She graduated over 20 years ago and is yet to do the therapeutics component but will look into it.
  • An optometrist whose clinic specialises in behavioural optometry refers to herself as “Doctor”. All her letterheads state she is a doctor, and as these letterheads are then sent off to the specialists and GPs they would also show that her colleagues and herself refer to themselves as “Doctor”. This has been well received as she is at a specialty practice.
  • Some colleagues use it purely for marketing purposes, for example: “Doctor X is available now for eye assessments”
  • Other colleagues have stated they are quite open to using the doctor term as they believe other professions, such as chiropractors, use it quite freely and therefore they are quite comfortable with using it, their rationality being they have studied the 5 year course and are competent in prescribing therapeutic goods.
  • Whilst most optometrists have been quite well accepted in using the Doctor term, one colleague has had a very unfortunate experience. She was referred a patient from the GP for a red eye. The optometrist diagnosed herpes simplex keratitis and started the patient on medication. She then wrote a letter back to the GP asking for prophylactic oral treatment, which the GP could prescribe. She signed the letter with Dr her name (therapeutics goods provider). The GP then rang her up stating she was not a doctor and she could not use the term. He threatened to report her to AHRPA unless she took this terminology off her business cards and letterheads. She has been very scarred by the incident.

Ms Huang said that “whilst patients are very open to us using the term, however there have been a few experiences of backlash from other health practitioners.

I agree the use of this term remains quite a controversial subject and hopefully these experiences can give you some insight.

Personally I use the term only on my appointment cards. I am in a regional town and patients are very open to the idea, they often refer to myself and my colleagues as doctor. We do a lot of co-management of patients here and specialise in several areas; therefore the term is very well received.

We do not use the term on our letterheads, nor signing off on patient referrals.

Of note, whenever this term is used, my colleagues have then specified that they are optometrists, or therapeutics goods providers.”

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2 replies to “Should optometrists be calling themselves doctors?”

  1. Anyone with a doctorate degree is a “doctor”. PhD, DMD, OD, MD, PDT, DVM, etc.. all doctors. All different skill sets. All the highest level of training in a field, all mutually exclusive for the most part.

    Optometrists are most certainly doctors. Not only do they have a doctorate degree, they also manage all forms of eye disease and prescribe medications as necessary – yes, they practice medicine. They receive their medical training in a college that only does eye care (optometry school), not a general medical program. They have years of eye specific training. Are they physicans? no. Can a non-eye physician do what an optometrist does? no. Non-eye physicians have very little eye training in comparison to optometrists.

  2. The fact that the universities are using “doctor” degrees as a marketing exercise does not legitimise optometrists using the Doctor title.

    By that token, every lawyer in Australia who now all of a sudden gets a JD instead of the old LLB is now a “doctor”.

    The truth is simple. Most optometrists would have aspired for medical school and having missed out on its selective entry, opted for optometry or pharmacy or dentistry. That is the honest truth.

    Nowadays we have chiropractors with ATARs of 50 calling themselves Doctor and podiatrists trying to convince the public that they are actual foot surgeons.

    I am an actual surgeon. I round frequently with podiatrists. We instruct on what minor care we want provided. All of the serious work is done by similarly qualified medical doctors.

    Ophthalmology in Australia is one of the hardest medical specialties to gain entry in. It requires medical school, residency, research and a rockstar CV. It is disingenuous to compare the 5-12 immensely hardworking PGY12-15 medical doctors who gain entry into RANZCO every year with the 600 general optometry grads churned out by the universities every year.

    If you work at OPSM, you are not an eye doctor. You are an optometrist. If you want to be an eye doctor – sit the gamsat and earn the respect of your colleagues.

    Enough of this nonsense.

    Get an atar above 99.7 or sit the Gamsat and pass medical school, residency and work as a slave for 15 years in the public hospital system sitting the hardest known exams and then you might be one of the lucky 1% of medical doctors that similarly refer to themselves as eye doctor. If not, you are just an optometrist. Have self-respect but be honest. No shame in being an optometrists but don’t kid yourselves either.

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