As you can imagine, the statistics and insights in this 2020 Optometrist Report are unlike any we’ve seen in previous years. And how could they be? Patient visits slowed and optometry practices closed, leaving owners to adapt by adjusting salaries, telehealth practices, and future business plans. If you’re reading this report, your job or that of one of your colleagues was likely affected by the pandemic: 73.6% of survey respondents’ jobs were impacted by COVID-19, either through layoffs, pay or hour cuts, or furloughs.
In this report, we reveal the state of the optometry industry through salary statistics, job prospects, and business financing plans so you can make informed decisions about your optometry career.
Download the 2020 Optometrist Report or keep reading for a sneak preview of our findings!
When 2020 began, we expected it to be “Optometry’s Year.” Optometrist unemployment was near 0% pressuring practice owners to offer competitive salaries and benefits to draw student debt-laden but highly-trained ODs to their practices. Corporate optometry was growing, and at the same time, both private practice employment and cold start businesses appeared healthy.
Then came 2020 and all of its surprises. Suddenly, practices were closing across the country and many ODs found themselves with reduced hours, furloughed, or laid off entirely. Now, even as practices have reopened and many have reached pre-COVID patient loads, ODs are finding the employment landscape to be very different from what it was at this time in 2019.
In August 2020, CovalentCareers conducted a survey of 719 optometrists, practice owners, and optometry students to find out exactly what this means. We asked eyecare professionals about their graduation year, salaries, and student loan debt, as well as more nebulous questions about confidence in managing finances, impressions of private equity, and feelings about the future of the profession.
In this report, we’re sharing our findings with ODs and with anyone who is looking to get a better understanding of what optometrist employment looks like in 2020. After all, optometrists are a resilient bunch. Whether it’s industry leaders shaking up their business models, practice owners incorporating new COVID workflows, ODs learning new telehealth technologies, or optometry students adapting to hybrid learning methodologies, we’ve seen the whole industry step up to the challenges of 2020.
In the 2020 Optometrist Report, we cover:
- Optometrist salary: What are ODs making this year as compared to 2019? Are optometry salaries expected to grow or decrease in the next year? And what can new ODs expect to make in their first job?
- Optometrist employment: What are the top settings for optometrists in 2020? How do ODs feel about specialty practice? What were the effects of COVID-19 on optometrist employment, and what does it look like now?
- Finances: How much optometry student loan debt do ODs have? How confident are ODs in managing their debt and finances?
- Clinical skills and optometric technology: What clinical skills do ODs feel strongest in? How many patients per hour are ODs comfortable seeing? Which optometric brands are most popular?
- The Future: How confident are ODs in the future of the profession?
- And more!
Who’s who in the 2020 Optometrist Report
Of the 719 optometrists we surveyed, 414 were ODs, 99 were practice owners, and 206 were optometry students. 73.4% of our survey respondents were female—not unexpected, since our primary readership is new grad optometrists. While the optometry industry overall is split fairly evenly between men and women, the number of female enrollees in optometry school has grown to 69% this year.
A growing number of ODs are bilingual or even multilingual, with 19.9% of students reporting that they speak three or more languages compared to 10.1% of practice owners and 13.8% of ODs. When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that language fluency, a crucial aspect of patient communication, will only continue to improve.
As for settings, private practice is holding strong, but involvement in corporate optometry has grown amongst respondents from 24% of associate ODs employed by a corporate practice or sublease in 2019 to 28% in 2020. In other surveys, respondents have expressed that the top appeal of corporate optometry lies in compensation, benefits, and stability—factors that are more important this year than ever.
Show me the money: optometry salaries in 2020
Last year, the median salary among optometrists was $112,178; this year, median salary among optometrist respondents was $113,396, making salary growth relatively flat.
Salaries for optometrists in corporate optometry and for those who did not pursue residency are often higher (about a $10,000 difference in current median salary); of course, the vast majority of ODs who pursue a residency unequivocally state that it was worth it (95%).
65% of ODs expect their salaries to increase in the next year; another 29% expect their salaries to remain the same. This number has dipped 5% since last year, when 69% of optometrists and practice owners expected their salaries to increase. Even for those not among the 74% whose employment status was affected by the pandemic, optometrists around the country have adjusted to reduced billing, patient loads, and other measures. For many, this means reduced clinic revenue and therefore delayed bonuses or raises. Yet that 65% tells us, more than almost anything else, that optometrists are optimistic about their practices’ capabilities to remain not just open, but thriving.
Stepping into the future: what’s next for optometry
Still, despite the events of 2020, optometrists’ average feelings about the future of the profession remain cautious at an average 6.93 out of 10.
Compared to 2019, the number of those who say they would no longer choose optometry if they had a chance to do it over has grown from 17.6% to 22.1% overall. When asked what drove this answer, the vast majority of optometrists who wished for another profession cited the overwhelming debt-to-income ratio. For these ODs, optometry student loan debt combined with what they perceive to be a lack of potential income growth has left them feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and stuck.
While students are still the most optimistic of each group, what can be done to not only bring talented young people into the profession but also to reignite the passion for the profession in optometrists who are further along in their careers?
At CovalentCareers, our primary goal is to provide mentorship, career resources, and job placements for eyecare professionals. With this report, our goal is to spread understanding of the industry-wide trends that are shaking up the hiring outlook for optometry practices across the United States and start a conversation about what opportunities there are to carry optometry into the future.