Is optometric income increasing? The answer depends on how you look at it. In terms of actual dollars, average income has increased. But in terms of what those dollars can buy you, and in terms of which doctors have those dollars, most O.D.s have less now than they did two years ago.

These are some of the highlights (or lowlights) of our 18th Annual Income Survey, culled from the responses of 230 doctors (about 15%) in our National Panel, Doctors of Optometry. This article compares our panelists 2004 income information against information gathered over the last several years in two-year increments.

Real Income Declines
In absolute terms, the average optometrists net income has increased, from $130,614 in 2002 to $134,680 in 2004an increase of 3.1%.

While the average, or mean, income may be skewed by very extreme (both very high and very low) salaries, the median may provide a more conventional snapshot of the common O.D.s net income. Among both self-employed and employed doctors, median income in 2004 was $117,000, an increase of 11.4% from $105,000 in 2000. (Median income was not available for 2002.)

Self-employed doctors (those in private practice, partnerships, groups or franchises) had an increase in mean net income to $140,540 in 2004 from $137,030 in 2002. Thats a rise of only 2.6%. But inflation rose 6.1% over the same period (based on the U.S. Consumer Price Index), so self-employed optometrists have effectively lost net income since 2002.

Likewise, median income for self-employed O.D.s didnt rise at all in the past two years. Compare median income of $120,060 in 2004 with $120,227 in 2002.

Gross, Margins Hold Steady
Gross revenues have also remained flat since 2002. Average gross revenue (among both self-employed and employed doctors) was $474,830 in 2004 and $476,693 in 2002.

Another key indicator of a practices economic health: profit margin, which is defined as net income as a percentage of gross revenue (i.e., net income/gross revenue). Among optometrists as a whole, their profit margin held about the same: 28.4% in 2004 compared with 27.4% in 2002. Thats a steady rate, as margins have hovered around 28% since Review of Optometry started tracking them in 1998. Bear in mind that this is the combined profit margin of our panelists. Individual profit margins likely vary widely.

Satisfaction Persists, Hours Down
Interestingly, attitudes about earnings havent changed much in the past two years. About 68% of doctors said they were satisfied or more than satisfied with their 2004 income, which was about the same rate of satisfaction (67%) in 2002.

But satisfaction differs among older and younger O.D.s. Doctors who have been in practice for more than 30 years (72% of them) were the most satisfied with their income. Meanwhile, doctors who have been in practice between 11 and 20 years (40% of them) were the most dissatisfied with their income.

Also, the average work week for optometrists continues its slide. Doctors say they worked an average of 38.3 hours a week in 2004. Compare that with 39.8 hours a week in 2002, 40 hours in 2000 and 41 hours in 1998.

We Can Do Better
On a positive note, few doctors (8%) expect their net income to decrease in 2005. Meanwhile, 46% expect their net income to stay the same, and 41% hope their net income will increase. I am satisfied, but always looking to do better, says optometrist Marvin Walker, of Spruce Pine, N.C.

How do like-minded optometrists plan to do better next year? They take matters into their own hands. Optometrist Tory Moore, of Dumas, Texas, says his net income dramatically increased in 2004 because he raised his medical fees. He plans to raise them again this year.

Many doctors say they dont plan on working more, just working more efficiently. They aim to delegate more tasks, streamline and step-up their employees duties, and get more involved in treating clinical disease.

Adding medical eye care services has made all the difference, says optometrist Martin White, of his growing practice in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Vol. No: 142:7Issue: 7/15/2005