Two new schools of optometry are now in the works, one in Massachusetts and one in Virginia.
The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences plans to open a new optometry school in 2012.
• Massachusetts. After a decade of considering it, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) has begun the process of initiating an optometry school. The working name is the MCPHS School of Optometry, with its first class scheduled to begin in the fall of 2012, according to Peggy Achenbach, O.D., who is helping to put the school on its feet.
Class size will start in the range of 50 to 100 students. No faculty members have been hired yet.
“MCPHS is an institution with a prominent history specializing in medical careers,” Dr. Achenbach says. “The college provides traditional and accelerated programs of study that combine in-depth knowledge with hands-on clinical practice.” Current advanced-level education includes pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and degrees in medical imaging, nursing, occupational and physical therapy, among others.
The curriculum for the optometry school will include interdisciplinary study in both didactic and clinical courses, in which optometry students will work side-by-side with pharmacy and other students, Dr. Achenbach says.
The curriculum will also emphasize business courses to help equip students with the business skills to enter private practice right after graduation—especially in those areas where eye care is most needed. “We want to maintain sight of what is best for the profession and what is best for public health,” she says. “Training ‘business practitioners’ will help them to survive and thrive in underserved areas.”
Why open yet another school of optometry—and one so close to New England College of Optometry (NECO)? One reason, as indicated above, is to serve the public health in underserved areas—an important mission of the school, Dr. Achenbach says.
She also believes that the demand for eye care services will grow with the aging of baby boomers and the epidemic increase of diabetes in the United States.
Also, because it will be located in Worcester, the new optometry school will offer potential students a “small town” alternative to the other schools in the Northeast—NECO, SUNY and
Pennsylvania College of Optometry—which are based in large cities, she says.
• Virginia. The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) recently approved a $5.6 million loan for the development the Appalachian College of Optometry in Buchanan County, located in the westernmost part of the state. (As of 2006, Buchanan County was the poorest county in Virginia and one of the 100 poorest counties in the United States, when ranked by median household income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)
The Appalachian College of Optometry would be located in the vicinity of the Appalachian School of Law and the more recently developed Appalachian College of Pharmacy. The first class of optometry students is expected to begin in August 2013.
“Buchanan County has developed a very unique economic development strategy that is centered, in part, around the development of private graduate schools in the county as a means of creating direct and indirect jobs and other economic impacts,” says VCEDA executive director Jonathan Belcher.