Optometry as a Career Choice
You will graduate college this year. You have a high grade point average and are strong in sciences. You enjoy dealing with people and helping them. You decide to explore the health professions that lead to a doctorate.
Your GPA will allow you to consider Medicine, Dentistry, Podiatry or Optometry. You rule out medicine, because you do not wish to have the stress of life and death decisions combined with unpredictable hours. Dentistry is unappealing because you have never enjoyed working with your hands and suspect you are a bit clumsy.
That leaves Podiatry or Optometry. You learn that Podiatry has a low glamor rating but high income potential. Optometry has a median salary that is $88,000 versus Podiatry at $124,000. For more on glamor versus income visit ...http://netscape.salary.com/articles/...ce.asp?atc=544
You feel eyes and vision have a greater “glamor factor” than feet and ankles and are willing to sacrifice the potential income difference for what you perceive is a satisfying profession. What are your perceptions of optometry? You gain your knowledge from sources such as the Center for Advising and Student Achievement whose description...
The Perception of Optometry
“Optometrists are independent, primary health care providers who examine, diagnose and treat disease and disorders of the eye and visual system. This includes measurement and prescription for glasses and contacts, diagnosis and treatment of eye coordination and focusing issues, treatment of eye diseases such as glaucoma, and detection of systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Optometrist also perform non-invasive surgical procedures. Areas of sub-specialty include low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric eye care, vision therapy, sports vision, and ocular disease.”
It is an accurate description. You feel this is the right fit. You will sacrifice four difficult and expensive years of education and training to achieve a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. You perceive this will allow you to either open a new practice, become an associate leading to a partnership in an established practice or have other attractive opportunities if you do not wish to become self employed.
You could work for the government. Opportunities exist for a career in the military. This means being commissioned as captain in the army, air force or as a naval officer lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps. For those who enjoy rural locations, there are also opportunities in the Indian Health Service. Closer to home, you can be employed by the Veteran's Administration
What you really like best are these multiple choices, that would allow you to have very flexible hours, good income with enough free time to meet family obligations. Although tuition is extremely high there are generous student loans. Funding your professional education will not be a problem. These may be your perceptions for a rewarding future career in optometry. All based on solid research.
You decide on the appropriate optometry college... (http://www.aoa.org/x2664.xml). If you are a resident in one of the states with a college of optometry as part of the public university system, there is considerable tuition reduction, over private optometry colleges. All this is reviewed by visiting (http://www.opted.org/info_faq.cfm)
The Reality of Optometry
Optometric education and training is demanding and exciting. After one free summer between the first and second year, there is no free time. Outside employment to supplement income is out of the question for most. By the end of the fourth year student loan debt can range from a low of $100,000, to for many who graduate from private colleges $200,000. A formidable debt!
This not an impossible debt however, because of long term, low interest repayment provided there are professional opportunities with adequate remuneration. Some students delay loan repayment by electing to take a residency.(http://www.opted.org/residencies_faq.cfm) . They sacrifice a years higher earnings for proficiency and improved future hiring opportunities.
Now the problem...
There is an excess of optometric graduates. Optometry colleges have been unwilling to cut back on enrollment. As a result the vast number of graduates cannot be absorbed into private practice, as associates leading to partnerships. Those ODs who receive offers, do so at a lower salary than they expected. This makes paying off the student debt very difficult.
ODs who wish to open a new practice find receiving bank loans difficult to impossible because of their student debt and no financial track record. For many this closes the door to becoming their own boss.
Some recent graduates elect working for the government either in the military or Indian Health service if they don't mind being far from home or the Veteran's Administration when there are openings.
A lucky few, are hired as associates in an Ophthalmologic practice where they can utilize their training to the fullest extent and maintain doctor prestige and that “glamor factor”. Starting salaries in MD practices are better than in an optometric associate situation. The down side is that there is no equity in the practice. The OD will remain an employee, always subservient to the MD.
The Commercial Alternative
At present, the majority of optometric graduates are forced into situations that they did not expect when they selected optometry as a career choice. They are forced into commercial, corporate optometry. The pay scale is better but the “glamor factor” of optometry is gone. They may work in a mall with undesirable hours. That means possibly evenings and week ends. These ODs might receive a prestigious title, but make no mistake, they are employees of a corporation. Employees can be terminated at any time if the employer is displeased. Equity and patient loyalty cannot be built in that commercial environment.
The question to ask... Would working in Wal Mart or a similar company, in a small dark room eight hours or more each day, something that would be acceptable as a career? This may not happen, but it is a sad reality to many recent optometry graduates.
Optometry can be a rewarding and gratifying career. Be certain that you review your positive perceptions and that the optometry college admission committees will reinforce, but understand the realities. Certainly visiting with practicing optometrists in both professional and commercial locations will allow a well rounded picture for future career decision making.
If you decide on optometry and are accepted in an optometry college, our website welcomes you.
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