Indigenous, Local, News

First Doctor of Optometry course announced for WA

The University of Western Australia (UWA) has announced a new three-year postgraduate Doctor of Optometry program, which will begin in 2021 and have an initial intake of up to 60 students.

Students who have successfully completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science or equivalent degree can apply for entry into course administered by the School of Allied Health within UWA’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

The new postgraduate degree, the first and only of its kind in WA and the seventh in Australia, is part of a partnership between UWA, Lions Eye Institute (LEI), and optometry industry leaders.

Rhonda Clifford, UWA.

Announcing the optometry degree this week, Professor Rhonda Clifford, head of UWA’s School of Allied Health, said there was increasing demand for eyecare services and an undersupply of professionals.

“Australia’s ageing population and complications from other chronic health conditions had also added to demand,” she said.

“Our new degree will help address the undersupply of eyecare professionals in WA, while helping with the distribution of practitioners in regional and remote parts of the State,” Clifford said.

“Professor Garry Fitzpatrick will lead the new Doctor of Optometry course, contributing decades of industry and clinical experience to ensure its success.”

The university said the new course, subject to accreditation by the Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand, will produce optometrists with a focus on early detection, diagnosis, treatment and management of eye diseases.

As part of their study, students will gain hands-on experience through extended clinical placements with industry partners, including LEI and its Lions Outback Vision division, Specsavers, and Luxottica across metropolitan, regional and remote areas of WA.

Professor Bill Morgan, managing director of LEI, said the institute would work with UWA on the research component of the course.

“We are very pleased to be partnering with UWA to bring the ophthalmology and optometry disciplines closer together in a way that will greatly benefit patients all over the state,” Morgan said.

“As a result, graduates will be well-positioned to tackle the growing eye healthcare challenges affecting Australians.”

The new course leader, Professor Fitzpatrick, said the importance of culturally-aware eyecare professionals continues to grow, with the rate of blindness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders three times higher than non-Indigenous Australians.

“UWA, through this partnership with Lions Eye Institute and key industry partners, is taking the lead in tackling a growing problem by delivering an optometry course with a focus beyond best practice eye-care to develop socially and culturally-aware optometry leaders,” he said.

The course will have scope to offer up to 55 domestic and five international places in the first year.

It will be the seventh school of optometry in Australia, joining the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, Queensland University of Technology, Deakin University, Flinders University and most recently, the University of Canberra, whose five-year optometry course began in 2018.