The Optometry Surplus: A Quantitative Determination of Excess Densities

The Optometry Surplus:
A Quantitative Determination Of Excess Densities

Kenneth J. Myers, Ph.D., O.D.
President, American Board of Certification in Medical Optometry
Director Emeritus, Optometry Service, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.
June, 2014

Table of Contents
1. Executive Summary
2. Future Surplus Numbers
3. Purpose of Study
4. Methodology, Parameters Determining Density, Past Studies
5. Concluding Opinions
6. Footnotes
7. Appendix
8. Bibliography

Executive Summary

This study calculates the degree to which additional schools of optometry, and increased enrollments at existing schools have, and will, produce record densities (D) of optometrists and an increasing surplus of optometry manpower.

Since 1997, graduates will, this year, have increased by 42%, enrollments by 55% and density of optometrists by 11%, from D=11.5 in 1997 to over D = 12.8 per 100,000.

In 1997 the national Optometry Census led to the conclusion supply equaled demand for the density at that time of D=11.5. A manpower study, released in 2000 by Abt. Associates, sponsored by the AOA, projected surpluses from 1998 to 2030 if graduation rates remained at 1,127. But, graduation rates have increased and will reach 1,700 by 2016 and perhaps approach 1,900 by 2018 when two additional schools begin to produce graduates. In the past 80 years D has only once, briefly, reached 14 in the early 1950’s.

This surge in enrollments, if unchecked, will cause densities to reach record highs each year until eventually peaking at D=15-17. Creditable projections of future population growth and demand for optometry care do not require these high densities, and will create market disorders as population growth rate is low and falling.

A surplus density creates real hardships for optometrists burdened with educational loans and especially new graduates, and is a misuse of valuable human resources. Then, if applications decline as candidates question entering an overpopulated profession, this can drive schools to accept less qualified applicants. Applicants for the 2013 entering classes, for example, were already below 1.4 per seat.

Free-standing schools unaffiliated with universities, have higher enrollments and are most vulnerable. Two have begun training physician assistants or audiologists to mitigate effects of optometry oversupply and declines in applicants.

As in other education “bubbles” there are three key drivers:

• Overly optimistic predictions of future demand and employment opportunities.
• Accreditation Council on Optometric Education standards that, unlike medical and dental accrediting bodies, lack quantifiable, clinical, training requirements.
• Guaranteed student loans for which schools have no re-payment obligations.

This paper quantifies the impact increased enrollments have had, and will have, on future supply as measured by the density (D) of optometrists.

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