According to the Optometry Board of Australia, the total number of registered optometrists in the 2021/22 year increased by 3.4% compared to the previous 12 months, up to 6,500. The age group with the largest representation was the 25-34-year-olds at 34.8%. However, Australia currently has about 338 optometrists aged between 65 to 74 years old still registered, and, in fact, around 30 optometrists aged over 75 years renewed their AHPRA registration last financial year.1 Given that the average retirement age for men was 66.2 years and 64.8 years for women in 2022 across the Australian population,2 this is impressive. So, other than being naturally fuelled by pure passion and an undying love for all things optometry, how can you extend the longevity of your enjoyable optometry career?
Daily Time Management Matters
Often, it’s the small things that make a difference in a big way; those little things you do throughout the day – like remembering to drink water – can make a significant difference to the state you find yourself in when business hours are over (no dehydration headache).
Whether you’re a practice owner or an employee optometrist, efficient time management of your clinical hours is important. While productivity refers to the amount of work you’ve accomplished at the end of the day, efficiency describes the process by which you achieved that.3 You can see the same number of patients and deal with the same amount of paperwork every day, but being able to do so efficiently is all the difference between feeling happy and satisfied versus exhausted and burnt out as you lock those clinic doors for the night.
Effective time management as a healthcare practitioner has the benefits of:4
- Increasing productivity
- Improving the quality of care you deliver
- Limiting stress and minimising the risk of burnout
- Heightening your personal satisfaction
Here are a couple of simple tips for improving your time management in clinical practice.
As an optometrist, your priority is obviously your patients. However, depending on how your practice is run, there will be other tasks vying for your attention, such as referral letters, reports, keeping an eye on your contact lens trial kits, diagnostic eye drops, staff meetings, etc. Keep a to-do list and then rate them in order of importance – what must be done today, what can wait until next week, and what can wait until you find yourself with a spare moment and nothing to do?
Training other staff may take some time at the very beginning, but once you can confidently rely on them, it makes all the difference. Someone else can manage the contact lens trial kits reordering (or, better still, arrange for your regional brand representative to come in regularly to check on it). You may also consider training your staff in pre-testing – non-contact tonometry, fundus photos, and autorefraction. Saving five minutes per patient can accumulate into a decent block of time you can spend on administration, walking to keep your mind fresh, or doing whatever else you like.
Mental Health and Burnout
Burnout among healthcare workers is a symptom of chronic workplace stress. It’s associated with emotional exhaustion, reduced professional efficacy, and feeling mentally disconnected from your work (and patients). When discussing mental health and burnout in the context of career longevity in optometry, it should be noted that severe or long-term burnout can be related to clinicians looking to retire early, reduce their working hours, or change careers entirely.5
The impact of clinician burnout on your patients is also not insignificant – it can lead to a drop in safety standards, quality of care, and patient satisfaction,6 making the topic of your mental well-being as an optometrist not just about you. In fact, clinician burnout was reported as one of the biggest threats to patient safety in the United States last year.5
One relatively recent survey conducted among Australian optometrists investigated the prevalence of mental illness and burnout. Its findings reported that rates of mental health conditions and burnout were high amongst Australian optometrists compared to other health professionals and the population in general. Optometrists aged 30 years or younger were 3.5 times more at risk of moderate to severe psychological stress compared to older aged groups. The most common causes of poor mental well-being reported in the survey were retail pressures, excessive workload, and career dissatisfaction.7
So, how can optometrists keep on top of their mental health and avoid burnout, both for your sake and your patients’? Here are some quick tips; you can also read this for the full story.
- Learn to recognise when you’re approaching burnout or if your mental health is suffering.
- Pay attention to your work-life balance and find what’s right for you personally.
- Make sure you leave work at work.
Workplace physical well-being amongst optometrist doesn’t appear to be a commonly discussed topic. However, optometrists are not immune to physical injury or discomfort.8,9 If you think about a routine eye exam, you’re regularly required to bend over, sometimes twist a little, hold your arms outstretched, make fine motor movements with your hands and fingers, and maybe also crane your neck.
The most commonly reported sites of discomfort are neck, shoulder, and lower back,8 with phoropter and slit lamp use appearing to be the main culprits.9 Poor physical comfort and well-being in optometric practice has been associated with a reduced ability to carry out tasks and decreased work hours,9 and can have implications for career longevity.8
Although you may be limited in how much you can modify your exam room setup or your examination techniques,9 you can consider taking some steps to reduce or alleviate your physical discomfort.
- Ensure equipment is well-maintained so it doesn’t put unnecessary physical stress on your body. For example, making sure the phoropter arm is easy to move around.
- Upgrading equipment to more ergonomic alternatives, such as your office chair or the height of the slit lamp table.
- Seek the advice of an occupational therapist in identifying areas for improvement in your workspace.
- Investigate some simple stretches and exercises you can perform between patients to reduce physical discomfort.
Career longevity may not be a concern for everyone, but no one dreams of quitting optometry due to mental burnout or physical injury. By being mindful of your well-being, setting appropriate boundaries, and taking proactive steps to address problems, you can ensure that when you finally leave the profession, it’s in your own good timing.
- Optometry Board. 2021/22 annual summary. https://www.optometryboard.gov.au/. 2023. Available at: https://www.optometryboard.gov.au/News/Annual-report.aspx. (Accessed May 2023).
- KPMG. When will I retire? https://kpmg.com/. 2023. Available at: https://kpmg.com/au/en/home/media/press-releases/2023/02/when-will-i-retire-educated-aussies-choosing-work-longer-23-february-2023.html. (Accessed May 2023).
- Modern Optometry. Increased Efficiency: Secrets to Keeping Your Practice Running Smoothly. https://modernod.com/. 2021. Available at: https://modernod.com/articles/2021-july-aug/increasing-efficiency-secrets-to-keeping-your-practice-running-smoothly?c4src=article:infinite-scroll. (Accessed May 2023).
- MIPS. Smart time management for healthcare practitioners. https://support.mips.com.au/. 2023. Available at: https://support.mips.com.au/home/smart-time-management-for-healthcare-practitioners#:~:text=Poor%20time%20management%20means%20patients,patient%20care%20to%20more%20patients. (Accessed May 2023).
- News GP. A burnt out workforce impacts patient care. https://www1.racgp.org.au/. 2022. Available at: https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/professional/a-burnt-out-workforce-impacts-patient-care. (Accessed May 2023).
- Jun J, Ojemeni M, Kalamani R, Tong J, Crecelius M. Relationship between nurse burnout, patient and organisational outcomes: Systematic review. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2021;119:103933.
- Bentley SA, Black A, Khawaja N, Fylan F, Griffiths AM, Wood JM. The mental health and well-being survey of Australian optometrists. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt.2021; 41: 798– 80.
- Long J, Naduvilath T, Hao L, et al. Risk Factors for Physical Discomfort in Australian Optometrists. Optometry and Vision Science. 2011;88(2):317-326.
- Long J, Yip W, Li A, Ng W, Hao L, Stapleton F. How do Australian optometrists manage work‐related physical discomfort? Clinical and Experimental Optometry. 2012; 95(6):606-614.