Most of us would agree that there are few things more important than the ability to see; it affects nearly every aspect of our lives. That makes having access to qualified vision care professionals such as optometrists essential for all Missourians, regardless of where they reside in the Show-Me State.
According to the Missouri Board of Optometry, the University of Missouri – St. Louis College of Optometry is the state’s only accredited provider of optometrists. Approximately 175 students were enrolled during the Fall 2018 semester. Of that number, less than half (43%) are Missouri residents. The College graduates approximately 45 students each year, and nearly 100% are able to find a job upon graduation.
Licensed Vision Care Professionals in Missouri
Based on data provided by the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, there are currently 1364 optometrists licensed to practice in the state of Missouri. However, it should be noted that not all those who hold an active license actually provide patient care. Some, for example, may be retired from practicing but continue to maintain their professional license. Others may reside in another state but choose to keep their Missouri license or may reside in Missouri but practice in a border state. That said, out of the total number of licensed optometrists, 355 reside outside the Show-Me State.
Where Do Those Optometrists Live?
Where in the state do those licensed optometrists live? In addition to the 44 who reside in St. Louis City, here’s the breakdown by county in order from most to least:
County of Residence
|St. Louis County||260|
|St. Louis City||44|
As seen in the chart, optometrists live in 79 out of the 114 counties in Missouri. However, does that mean those remaining counties have no practicing optometrist? The short answer is, “We just don’t know.” At the present time, it appears that no one is tracking where our state’s optometrists serve patients – UMSL does not track where its graduates go after completing their program, and state agencies do not track where they practice. This makes attaining a supply and demand balance almost impossible. What can be done?
Vision Care for Missourians: A Recommendation
We have an idea: Stakeholders should start talking and working together. The Missouri Division of Professional Registration should start tracking where its licensees practice through an annual survey. Areas of saturation and shortage could be identified, with that information then passed along to county health departments, the Missouri Board of Optometry, and the UMSL College of Optometry, which would adjust their recruitment and enrollment efforts accordingly.
We must have a way of knowing with confidence whether we have enough licensed vision care professionals to meet the demand in all areas of our state; communicating seems like a good place to start.
One Missouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.
Top Photo Credit: OneMissouri