To retain more optometrists in state, North Carolina needs to evaluate the feasibility of establishing an optometry school, according to the state’s Legislative Research Commission's Committee on Health Care Provider Practice Sustainability and Training/Additional Transparency in Health Care.
The report, issued to the 2014 Regular Session of the 2013 General Assembly, found that the state's ratio of optometrists is less than the national average.
"Data from the Cecil G. Sheps Center shows that North Carolina's ratio of optometrists per 10,000 population is below the national average and has consistently been below that national average since 1979," the report said. "There are 12 counties in North Carolina without a single optometrist."
The committee also discussed the Forgivable Loans for Service Program, which allows optometry students to receive a loan for $14,000 each year. As detailed in the report, the program is designed so that many students repay each year of the loan with a year of service in a qualified position in North Carolina.
"It is important to note that the Forgivable Education Loans for Service Program allows optometry students to utilize the loan resources at out-of-state education institutions as there is no optometry school located in North Carolina," the report stated.
According to the committee, a report from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry found that in 2011-2012, 115 North Carolina resident students attended one of its 20 schools.
The committee recommended that the General Assembly enact legislation that would require the Board of Governors at the University of North Carolina to assess adding an optometry school at one of seven possible locations.
They also encouraged North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Inc. to assess establishing an affiliated optometry school.
Both the Board of Governors and North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Inc. are to submit their reports to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services and Fiscal Research Division by Dec. 1, 2014.