New course to tackle growing eye disease among Australians

11/03/2020 | 5 mins (including 2 mins video)

Next year, The University of Western Australia will offer the State’s first and only Doctor of Optometry degree to tackle an increase in eye complications from chronic diseases and conditions suffered by millions of Australians.

The new degree is part of a partnership between UWA, Lions Eye Institute, and optometry industry leaders, and will broaden the scope of health practitioner courses to produce more vitally needed professionals.

Eye disease is the most common chronic condition in Australia, with more than 12 million Australians reported to have long-term eye conditions, although more than 90 per cent of all vision impairment is preventable or treatable.

Professor Rhonda Clifford, Head of UWA’s School of Allied Health, said there was increasing demand for eye-care services and an undersupply of eye-care professionals. Australia’s ageing population and complications from other chronic health conditions had also added to demand.

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

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

Professor Fitzpatrick said the importance of culturally-aware eye-care 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 new course will produce optometrists with a focus on early detection, diagnosis, treatment and management of eye diseases, and rehabilitation of conditions concerning the visual system.

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

Professor Bill Morgan, Managing Director of Lions Eye Institute, said the Institute was committed to the development of the next generation of high-calibre optometrists, and 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,” Professor Morgan said.

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

The three-year postgraduate Doctor of Optometry will be available to students for 2021 entry, and is administered by the School of Allied Health within UWA’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

Students who have successfully completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science or equivalent degree and meet any additional admission requirements, can apply for entry into the Doctor of Optometry.

Entry will be competitive, with up to 55 domestic and five international places offered in the first year.

For further information on UWA’s new Doctor of Optometry course visit the course website.

The University of Western Australia 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.

Media references

Nicholas Smith (UWA Media Officer) 08 6488 1888 / 0411 644 492

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