I have been asked many question about the eyecare industry and how it would shape up in Malaysia in the next 5-10 years.
Most common question by most aspiring eye care professionals would be :-
Should I study to become an Optometrist or an Optician??
If you are unsure what is an Optometrist compared to an Optician, read here
My answer would be take your Optometry course now and forget about the latter.
My reason is based mainly on a 3 factors :-
1) There is currently 6 (if i am still correct) Universities offering Optometry course in Malaysia. That means in the next 2-4 years, we would be churning out 200-300 optometrist per year. In the next 5-10 years numbers of Optometrist may well be at par with number of registered Opticians if not more.
2) As you know, the government are now discouraging the public to take up medicine that have been experiencing a glut in recent years. At the moment, the ratio of Houseman to Tutors are way off the charts resulting in the fear that the profession is suffering from a deterioration in quality. This will inevitably cause prospective student to look at other health related fields in Malaysia and Optometry is definitely up there. This may result in more universities offering Optometry courses and resulting in more Optometrist in the general market.
3) There is now a better awareness among the public between what is an Optometrist as compared with an Optician. This awareness will only increase as the years go by.
This 3 factors alone will propel Optometrist as the main eye care practitioner in the Optical Industry.
This in 7-10 years would result in the government to amend the Optical Act to make it compulsory for every optical outlet to have a registered Optometrist (like in Pharmacist to a Pharmacy). Many people are skeptic when i tell them this but i really beg to differ.
Furthermore, even before the act is amended, public awareness on the role of Optometrist as compared to an Optician is already on the rise. Not too long from now, i am sure most consumer may even insist that they have their eyes refracted by an Optometrist rather then an Optician.
This will also see the government tighten the already existing legislature on contact lens sales. At the moment all optical outlet are selling contact lens but the Optical Act states that only Optician with Pink Form and Registered Optometrist can dispense them to the general public. This may constitute to less then 50% (25% is my gut feeling if you include rural areas) of the optical outlets out there. An alarming figure indeed. As more Optometrist come out in the open market, pressure will be on the relevant department to enforce the already existing legislature.
For Opticians that have already been practicing in this industry, there will be challenging days ahead with the slowly but surely revolution of the industry. They will eventually have to work with Optometrist to ensure there is a more comprehensive approach in eye health care (if not also for their own livelihood). In UK, Optometrist are normally confined to their sight test room and sales are done by Opticians. This may be a good way forward.
One thing for sure, the change is coming and it is for the betterment of not just the industry which at the moment are degraded into somewhat a "pasar malam" culture but also to the consumer at large.