This optometrist moved to Ottawa and realized I can’t quit optometry. Here’s why

I’ve spent the last 10 years working in optometry. For the last few years, though, I’ve been struggling. The reason is simple: I have a practice. Since 2008, I’ve been working as an optometrist. But I’ve also been a political activist, trying to figure out what to do.

And I’ve realized that even the biggest optometrists’ organization in Ontario has left me unable to make a livable wage. If I wanted to fix that, I needed to organize, and I wanted to keep politics out of it.

But two months ago, an unintended side effect of an optometrist’s lobbying efforts left me in an impossible position. One of the most effective outside groups in the province to discourage people from opting out of optometry is an optometrist called the Optometrists Association of Ontario. (We’ll call it OAO for short.) OAO is strongly opposed to opting out of optometry, which is not uncommon for optometrists. Optometrists make up the majority of optometrists in Ontario. Since 2000, optometrists who cared for only a minority of the public opted out of Ontario optometry altogether. The OAO is a loud but vocal organization in favor of optometry being the sole career option for Ontario optometrists.

It’s also possible to work both optometry and politics as OAO itself has. OAO has dominated activism in Ontario optometry, and actively mobilized patients and employers in opposition to letting some optometrists opt out of optometry. Thus, OAO can generate serious fear in optometrists and their parents and even local communities about keeping the career of optometry open. In doing so, OAO has kept me from making the wage I need to buy a house.

In June 2017, I met my husband, Brendan. He had previously worked as a medical social worker in the USA. Brendan wanted to work as an optometrist in Ontario. In OAO-speaking optometry, their position is that if you don’t work for OAO and have to opt out of optometry then you need to be a transient professional. This is because Ontario optometry is restrictive in the circumstances in which optometrists can work. How restrictive is that? Because if you want to work as an optometrist in Ontario, you’ll be a transient professional no matter what hours you put in and no matter how many clients you take care of.

There was no way I could stay in optometry, because the workload that would have made it possible was simply too much. It was a Catch-22 situation. As an optometrist, the only way I could support myself was to make people sick so that they couldn’t opt out of optometry. While this was the highest failure rate model for any profession in Ontario, it was the only model for optometry, so that was the one that I was stuck with.

The other option was to lobby with many Optometrists (most of whom were registered as politicians) but ask them to tell optometrists to opt out of optometry. This would only drive people to opt out of optometry.

In the end, we managed to come to an agreement. The result is that I’ve opted out of optometry but I’m still able to go to work for all of the Optometrists Associations of Ontario, work for optometrists and help elected politicians determine what’s right and what’s wrong. Instead of doing optometry, I’ve become an action specialist. I’m free to do the work that I want to do. I’m free to be whoever I want to be. The only requirement is I have to vote for what’s right. And that’s something I’m willing to do.

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