The best parts about a career in optometry
Given that approximately 75% of vision loss is preventable or treatable, there is usually something that can be done to help your patients.
Given that work-related factors such as clinical challenges keep 78% of Australian optometrists happy and satisfied with their profession, you will most likely enjoy this profession if you like the challenge of putting together all the clues to reach a diagnosis and management plan in complex cases.
Scope of practice
The scope of practice of optometrists is expanding. Students commencing any of the optometry degrees in Australia will be therapeutically endorsed when they graduate. This means that they will be able to prescribe from a range of eye drops to treat some patients who present with eye inflammations, infections and injuries. It is expected that the number of people presenting to optometrists instead of emergency departments with eye injuries will increase.
In this video 2002 QLD/NT Optometrist of the Year Michael Hare talks about how he fell in love with the profession:
Things you really need to consider before deciding to study optometry
Breaches of legal and ethical responsibilities
It is important to be aware that there is generally a significant retail and fashion aspect to optometry, with most practices selling spectacles and contact lenses. There have been reports of some optometrists being asked to agree to sales targets or performance measures that can lead to breaching their legal and ethical responsibilities as a health care professional. In June 2022 the Optometry Board of Australia updated its Code of Conduct to be clearer around clinical decision-making for optometrists in an effort to ensure that ethical standards are being met.
With 77% of optometrists having at least two competitors within 2km, you need to have an especially good business strategy if you are looking at setting up a practice in many areas of Australia. With the consultation fees optometrists receive from Medicare being “on hold” sometimes for years at a time, the industry body Optometry Australia is encouraging optometrists to charge private fees to ensure their practices are sustainable. The market for selling spectacles is also becoming more competitive, with some people now buying their glasses online rather than in optometry practices.
Difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist
There is a distinct difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. An optometrist is generally the first port of call where a patient needs a routine check up, glasses, contact lenses, treatment for a sore eye, removal or a foreign body, low vision aids, need to be checked for eye problems relating to diabetes, or have symptoms such as seeing flashes of light or new floaters in the vision. An ophthalmologist is a medical practitioner who is able to treat the full spectrum of eye diseases, which can involve surgeries including cataract surgery.
How optometrists are viewed by ophthalmologists
At the end of his time as Chair of the Optometry Board of Australia, Mr Colin Waldron questioned whether how optometrists are viewed by ophthalmologists had changed in the last 100 years. This was due to the fact that some ophthalmologists still perceive optometrists to be “trained spectacle makers” (as they were in the 1900s). However, today’s optometrists health practitioners who competently diagnose eye conditions and provide appropriate referrals to ophthalmologists where necessary. They don’t make glasses – this is the job of spectacle frame and lens manufacturers.
Likes and dislikes
Click here for more details on what optometrists like and don’t like about their job.
Health professionals including optometrists deal with different people in different clinical scenarios every day. Some optometrists have taken up the practice of mindfulness in order to assist with the demands of the profession:
- From freaking out to freaking awesome – how mindfulness transformed my practice – by Amanda Griffiths
- How mindfulness saved me from myself – By Optometrist Wendy Saw
- How to be a Happy Health Practitioner – by optometrist Carina Trinh
- Putting the focus on mindfulness… an optometrist view … by Susan Ang
What do optometrists do and where do they work?
Click here for an overview about the profession of optometry in Australia.
What happens during an eye test
During an eye examination, an optometrists will check a patient’s vision, see if they require visual aids to focus their eyes, check the health of the front of the eye, inside the eye and measure the eye pressure:
Diagnosing eye conditions
Common conditions diagnosed by optometrists include macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. There has been some controversy over whether optometrists should be independently treating eye conditions such as glaucoma. There can also be cases of retinal tears and detachments, which are serious and can require treatment by an ophthalmologist within hours or days. Optometrists also commonly screen patients with diabetes to detect problems such as haemorrhages in the eyes, and refer patients to an ophthalmologist for treatment as required.
Given that approximately 40% of the eye conditions you diagnose are asymptomatic, that is, at the time of diagnosis, the patient has no idea that there is a problem, good communication skills are essential to ensure your patients follow the management plan you put in place. Potentially life-threatening problems such as an ocular melanoma can be picked up during a routine eye test.
Areas of specialization
Areas of specialization in optometry include fitting complex contact lenses such as ortho-keratology lenses, low vision, behavioural optometry, research and teaching, doing pre-and post-operative consultations in an ophthalmology practice and ocular therapeutics. Students commencing an optometry course in Australia will have ocular therapeutics as part of their degree. That is, they will be qualified to treat many problems such as eye infections and inflammations with eye drops.
Unexpected aspects of optometry
Optometrists Amy Fortescue and Jonathan McCorriston talk about unexpected aspects that come up during an eye test in this video:
There is also the possibility that optometrists will be having more in depth discussions with their patients about their general health in the future, as research around exercise being good for the optic nerve, appropriate nutrition for eye health and vision loss due to smoking becomes more predominant.
Click here for optometrist Phil Anderton’s views on being a rural optometrist.
Are optometry graduates getting jobs?
Refer to the optometry section on our employment page for detailed information.
ATAR for optometry
ATAR / Selection Rank: Click here for the ATAR for every optometry course in Australia in 2022.
Accreditation: A career in optometry starts with completing an accredited course. The Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand lists these courses on their website.
How much money do optometrists earn?
In 2018 the statistics on myfuture showed that optometrists and orthoptists earn an average of $79,664 excluding superannuation. According to the 2015 GradStats data, the median income for a graduate optometrist was $80,000 per year.
How long does it take to become an optometrist?
To become an optometrist takes 3.5 to 7 years depending on which university you attend.
UCAT / GAMSAT
Since 2018 UCAT was not a requirement for entry into any of the undergraduate optometry degrees. It had been required at the University of New South Wales in previous years. In 2018 GAMSAT was required for entry into the University of Melbourne’s post-graduate Doctor of Optometry course.
Please go to our optometry infographic page for more information on the pathways to becoming an optometrist.
Click here for the latest news about optometry in Australia.
Click here for our scholarship listing.
Videos about a career in optometry
Click here to go to our videos about a career in optometry from real optometrists.
Career in optometry – information from professional association
Visit the Optometry Australia website.
Images courtesy Paul Graham optometrist.
This page was last updated in January 2023.