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Optometry Faculty Salaries - Fair or not?

If you listened to the Defocus Media Podcast from Jan. 22nd, you heard me mention that there is a problem with salaries at Schools and Colleges of Optometry. I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a bit more insight to my comments on this topic.

In academic institutions, there may be tenure and non-tenure faculty positions. You probably know, that tenure at an academic institution refers to an educator’s employment status within a college or university. When a professor has earned tenure, he or she can only be terminated for a justifiable cause or under extreme circumstances. Earning tenure at a higher education institution is a great honor as it demonstrates the universities commitment to the professor. In optometric education, some schools have tenure and many do not. To complicate our field just a bit more, some schools differentiate clinical professors and didactic professors. So, the combination of these two different paths could fill a Punnett Square of optometry genetics! But, you've likely heard me argue that being an optometric educator is a healthy way to spend your career. What do I mean by this? I mean that faculty at an optometry school have varied and rewarding weeks. One day, they may be supervising students in the clinic, the next day they may be delivering a lecture, and the next day they may be teaching a clinical technique in the lab. The variety of work keeps one interested and prevents burnout. There is another reason that I loved my career in education and that was the opportunity to inspire the next generation. What greater good can we do in the world then to help develop compassionate caregivers? But, having said all of that, we do have a problem. Faculty salaries have not kept pace with the business world of optometry.

At the present time, optometrists are in demand. I have seen all of our graduates move on to lucrative contracts right out of school. In 2022, Review of Optometry reported that optometrists with less than 10 years of experience made an average of $151,170 this year and those with 11 to 20 years of experience earned 15% more than their newer counterparts, at $173,434. I'd suggest to the readers of this blog that these numbers have gone up in the past 2 years. I saw 2023 graduates starting at $150,000 and one at $165,000. This makes me happy! And, I always remind students that the most successful OD's work for themselves, but that's another topic. So, where is the problem? The problem is this optometric education. I recently saw a posting on Indeed or one of those job sites that was looking for a residency-trained OD to start teaching at an established optometry school. The starting salary was $100,000. Would you take a $50,000 pay cut to teach? That's a tough call for me, but for many optometrists with large student loans to manage...they will opt for the higher salary. Who can blame them? Not me! If a young educator starts at a school of optometry, they can increase their salary by improving their academic rank from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Professor. But, this is a long, slow process. Typically, it take 5-10 years to move up each ranking. Would you be patient enough to keep the same salary for 5 years while you worked on a promotion portfolio? So, what do we do?

I believe that schools and colleges of optometry must raise starting salaries and become competitive with the business world if we want to attract top talent. I know that people will say, "What about the great benefits?" That's true, but lots of companies offer great benefits including student loan reimbursement. So, here is my request...if you run a school or college of optometry, don't look at OD salaries at other optometry schools for benchmarking, but rather look at the current market for all optometrists. We are losing talented OD's that would love an academic career due to this large salary disparity. Let's fix that!

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