The University of Western Australia (UWA)’s new three-year postgraduate Doctor of Optometry program has enrolled 50 students, with 44 of those coming from the tertiary provider’s home state.
Professor Garry Fitzpatrick, head of the university’s optometry division, told Insight this week the course had exceeded expectations as a new offering, receiving 188 applications overall.
With a possible intake of up to 60 students, the degree was open to people who have Bachelor of Biomedical Science or equivalent. In total, Fitzpatrick said 44 students were from WA, two from NSW, two Victorians, one Queenslander and a solitary international student already based in Perth.
Approximately 75% are female, with five rural students overall and no Indigenous students.
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.
It has also divided the optometric community, with Specsavers and other corporate providers believing it will alleviate an escalating shortage of optometrists and reduce a reliance on the graduate supply from eastern states.
Optometry Australia (OA), however, asked the university to reconsider launching the course last year, stating it could fuel an oversupply of optometrists and potentially impact future employment prospects for many.
Fitzpatrick said the degree will officially commence on 22 February.
“It is designed specifically to tackle the increasing eye complications from chronic diseases and conditions suffered by millions of Australians,” he said.
“Previously Western Australians wishing to study optometry must relocate to the east coast of Australia at a considerable cost. Educating optometrists locally in WA will allow the university to develop leaders to serve our communities and reach those who live in rural and remote areas.”
Fitzpatrick said there was an increasing demand for eyecare professionals across Australia due to the ageing population and the increasing workload of managing chronic diseases such as diabetes, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.
UWA has applied to the Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand for the Doctor of Optometry to be recognised as a qualification leading to registration as an optometrist in Australia or New Zealand. The course is currently not accredited.