An array of stakeholders from across eyecare—including representatives from education, industry and media—committed yesterday to work together to counteract trends with the potential to undermine the successful practice of optometry in the United States. The purpose of the collaborative is to shepherd the profession to a future that best serves practitioners and patients rather than allow events to unfold without forethought.

 “A number of industry leaders have decided to get together and push forward with an initiative to improve the future of practicing optometrists by helping students face the new worlds that are developing around them,” said Marc Ferrara, CEO of Jobson’s Information Services Division, at yesterday’s event. Jobson is the publisher of Review of Optometry, Vision Monday, 20/20 and other eye care titles.

The effort is spearheaded by New England College of Optometry (NECO) and its president and CEO, Howard Purcell, OD. “The field of optometry is changing rapidly and it is truly an exciting time to be an OD,” Dr. Purcell said in a statement. “And yet, with change comes the need to remain open minded as we discover, adapt and validate future concepts and resources.”

Industry leaders provided their John Hancocks asa promise to work together for the profession.
Industry leaders provided their John Hancocks asa promise to work together for the profession. Click image to enlarge.

Last fall, NECO brought  together representatives from 44 organizations for a wide-ranging discussion on threats and opportunities facing optometry, including such varied topics as the state of third-party insurance, educational curricula reform to address new clinical responsibilities, how best to present optometry as a career path to prospective students, the need for greater business acumen among practitioners, the challenge of delivering clinical care to underserved rural areas, career paths in retail optometry vs. private practice, the burden of student loan debt and more. The group articulated 10 key issues, and included three in yesterday’s proclamation for immediate attention:

  1. Practice empowerment and acceleration to allow optometrists to work at the full scope of their licensure.
  2. Public perception of, and expectations for, optometry among patients and prospective students.
  3. The impact of technology on optometry (e.g., telemedicine, online refraction) and vice-versa (e.g., validation of new diagnostic tools in care protocols).

The signatories of the Proclamation include Essilor, Jobson, Johnson & Johnson Vision, Luxottica, NECO and Jobson. Many other industry leaders and participants also signed the Proclamation exhibiting their support of these key initiatives.

A second industry collaborative is planned at NECO for October 25. In advance of that, the signatories will develop subgroups to analyze issues and make recommendations.

Efforts to recruit candidates to join the optometric ranks are sure to play a central role in the discussions. The applicant pool for optometric colleges in North America is about 2800 individuals per year, Dr. Purcell noted at the signing yesterday. “That’s just a bit mind-boggling when you think of it that way,” Dr. Purcell he said. “We have to do a better job of helping young people understand the value of our profession, because those of us in it, love it.”