The expanded use of technology will significantly alter the traditional role of optometrists over the next 10 years. Large corporations with sophisticated marketing will dominate the multi-billion dollar eye care market. However, there is unmet need for medical eye care in the Medicaid and Medicare populations, and with changes to optometric education and clinical training, this unmet need can be addressed. State and Federal legislative/regulatory advocacy would need to be initiated concurrently with the development of the new optometric educational model.
Osteopathic Health Sciences Centers across the Nation currently offer innovative curricula in medical and other health care professions’ education, and now have a unique opportunity to develop and offer an innovative program in optometric education and residency training that would prepare optometrists to provide medical eye care. Such a new program would replace the traditional optometric curriculum where clinical training is contained within the four year degree program. Having no requirement for postgraduate clinical training, optometry is not eligible for the multi-billion dollar Graduate Medical Education (GME) program.
Optometrists are classified as physicians under Medicare and are judged by medical standards including specialty clinical training and board certification. Optometric education must now align with national standards and guidelines derived from medical education.
Such a proposed restructuring plan is politically challenging with numerous sensitive professional and educational issues. Implementation of the plan requires bold leadership. I look to Osteopathic Health Sciences Centers with their tradition of leadership and innovative programs to lead the change in optometric education. This proposal recommends restructuring optometric education and postgraduate training by placing it in parallel with medicine.
Three Years for OD Degree + One Year Postgraduate Training = Licensure
Three years of classroom education, laboratory and clinical clerkships to earn the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree followed by one year of postgraduate clinical training for licensure in General (Traditional) Optometric Practice. This would replace the current 4th year which essentially is the first year of residency training.
One Additional Year of Specialty Clinical Training to Provide Medical Eye Care.
One year of additional specialty clinical training in medical eye care and Board eligibility required by State Optometry Regulatory Boards to provide medical eye care.
Advantages of the New Curriculum and Clinical Training Model Include:
- The new model would encourage specialty clinical training and board certification as emphasis would shift from General (Traditional) optometric practice to primarily medical eye care.
- By restructuring the curriculum and requiring postgraduate clinical training, optometry would become eligible for Graduate Medical Education (GME) payments to address clinical training costs.
- Apply for a Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Grant to Fund Implementation, Entitled — “Restructuring of Optometric Education and Clinical Training To Meet Unmet Need for Medical Eye Care in Medicare/Medicaid Populations”
- Amend States’ optometric licensing laws/regulations to require a minimum of one year of postgraduate, residency training in General/Traditional optometry for licensure.
- And require an additional one year of training in specialty medical eye care with Board eligibility to practice medical eye care.
- Amend the Social Security Act to include optometry in the Graduate Medical Education Program (GME) and expand GME support of residency training to all optometric clinical training venues.