Workforce oversupply: Should We Be Worried?
By Jason Tan, ECOV committee member
In June 2017, Victoria had 1359 optometrists with general registration, second only to NSW, representing approximately 26% of the optometric workforce, with the highest number of registered optometrists in the 25-34 age group in the country.
Oversupply has been on the mind of many early career optometrists (ECO). With graduates in Victoria coming from its two optometry schools, and another new school soon to open in Canberra, this concern is not unfounded. Immigration is a relatively small contributor, with 10 permanent independent migrant visas and 30 temporary 457 visas granted in 2011-2012 for optometrists and orthoptists.
So let's look at these schools, which represent the main source of increase in optometry numbers. In 2012 the Federal Government allowed universities to increase student intake in bachelor degrees depending on demand, which contrasted with the previous system where limits were put in place for certain streams of study. The new demand driven system supported funding and growth in university student places and the formation of new optometry schools.
Optometry Australia has recently met with an advisor to the Federal Minister for Education on this issue. This advocacy work will continue. In addition, Optometry Australia is exploring the potential for collaborative advocacy aimed at helping Government to recognise that other health professions are also facing oversupply issues.
Optometry Australia engaged the Centre of Population and Urban Research (CPUR) in 2013 to make projections on supply and demand for optometric services. Its conclusion was that by the year 2036, based on an equivalent full-time optometrist (EFTO) providing 21 hours per week of clinical care, "there will be excess optometrists in relation to projected demand for services, if service utilisation is maintained at current levels or increased by 10 to 20 per cent." Victoria and NSW were predicted to be most affected.
Possible risks include increased competition for employment, loss of more experienced optometrists to those less experienced willing to work for lower salaries, effect on quality of eye care and reduced need for clinical expertise and more emphasis on non-clinical aspects (eg. dispensing).
Optometry Australia's current stance is that the following is needed (due shortly for release):
- a mechanism to limit the introduction of new entry-level optometry courses
- restriction on number of students in optometry courses, with amendments to public university funding systems that reflect the current supply and demand for services
- removal of optometry from the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (SOL), as well as the Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List
- workforce programs to aid distribution of services and incentivise rural and regional practice to address demand
- enhanced patient access to eye care and maximal use of the trained workforce
Optometry Australia has confirmed that the issue of oversupply is a key priority for the association, as it affects the future of all optometrists and the practice of optometry. To stay up to date on any further developments in this area visit Optometry Australia’s website, or contact your state division for further information.
 Cappucio, S, Sep 2017, Early Career Optometrists second national think tank: Background Paper, Optometry Australia, p1-4