Hong Kong's eye doctors question vision of training so few in profession

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 8:07am

Two bodies that represent the city's optometrists are urging the government to train more people in the profession, as the number of fully qualified optometrists among the general population is less than one-third that in Western countries.

By August this year, the city had about 2,100 registered optometrists, of which only 858 were classified as category one, meaning they had trained at universities and were qualified to provide comprehensive eye examinations, prescribe optical aids and use diagnostic drugs.

The remainder faced a range of limitations on the services they could provide, depending on the conditions of their registration.

Polytechnic University - the only university in the city with an optometry training school - produces about 35 category-one optometrists a year. Optometrists trained at certain universities outside Hong Kong can also register as category-one.

"It's not easy for supply to meet demand if the school can only train a handful of graduates a year," said Patrick Cheng Wai-hung, president of the Association of Private Practice Optometrists.

A survey conducted by the association in December last year found that almost 80 per cent of the 40 employers it canvassed said it was difficult to hire optometrists.

Jack Wong Wai-hung of the Society of Professional Optometrists said the ratio of category-one optometrists to members of the public was about one to 8,000 - very low compared with the typical ratio of one to every 2,000 to 3,000 people in Western countries.

Cheng said 80 per cent of local adults suffered from varying degrees of shortsightedness and the population was ageing, but that the city was short of several hundred optometrists.

Dr Larry Ng Hou-yan, a senior clinical associate at Polytechnic University's School of Optometry, said the school had been in talks with the government about increasing its funding to allow more trainee optometrists to study with government funds.