February 25, 2016
2 min read

ODs can meet increased need for primary care services

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ATLANTA – “There’s a significant shortage of primary care providers in this country,” Michael H. Mittelman, OD, MPH, FAAO, said here at SECO. “We are the profession that is best positioned to take care of this.”

Mittelman, who is president of Salus University, said optometry has become complacent with its current scope of practice.

“What can we do to become more progressive and to increase our scope so that we’re better caring for the patients relying on us?” he asked.


Michael H. Mittelman

Mittelman believes optometry should be defined not only as a profession that takes care of the eye, but one that diagnoses and manages related systemic conditions.

“Yes, we’re supposed to take care of the eye, but we’re also responsible for the whole of our patients,” he said.

Twenty-six percent of U.S. citizens are obese, nearly 30% of the population was diagnosed with diabetes in 2001, and one-third of those older than 30 are diagnosed with hypertension, Mittelman said. Through 2030, there could be a shortage of 20,000 to 30,000 primary care providers. Nurses or physicians’ assistants may step in, but optometry is best positioned to do so.

“I believe education is key,” he said. “We have to educate before we legislate.”

Reviews have been mixed on the increasing number of schools and colleges of optometry, Mittelman said. However, the number of people applying to optometry schools has been flat for the past 10 years, “and the slope is now going down.”

A faculty shortage exists, and students are graduating with more than $200,000 in debt.

“Today there are 23 schools of optometry, with others on the horizon,” he said. “I don’t think we’re meeting demand.”

There were 2,604 applications to the 2015 entering class, and 1,701 (about 70%) were accepted, according to the Association for Schools and Colleges of Optometry. Today, 6,805 students are enrolled in optometry school.

“The world is at our feet, but we can’t be complacent,” Mittelman said. “We must leverage the expertise we have in the profession and foster that. We need to market ourselves. Sell the profession. We need the youngsters to understand that this is a fantastic livelihood that’s evolving and growing, and they can be a part of it.

“As we expand our scope and leverage the current scope of practice, we need to become a more integral part of the American health care system,” he concluded. – by Nancy Hemphill, ELS, FAAO


Mittelman MH. More than meets the eye. Presented at: SECO. Feb. 24-28; Atlanta.

Disclosure: Mittelman is president of Salus University.