June 2020: Optometry practices on the road to recovery as the industry adjusts to the pandemic
A lot has changed in eyecare hiring since our last update. Recently, I’ve been taking a lot of phone calls from practice owners who are ready to start hiring again. Their first question is about the current hiring climate in this new COVID environment. Based on current information, here’s what I know:
- Practices started closing down the week of March 13th, and there was quickly a drop in new patient volume seen across the industry by 93%
- Practices that closed down furloughed their entire staff with the majority planning to bring these employees back
- The government provided practices with a forgivable loan, which helped practices and incentivized them to bring staff back to pre-COVID levels
- There was a 20% decrease in optometrist jobs listed beginning in March. That 20% decrease has continued through to today
- There are a lot of practices that have brought back their ODs, but at less than full-time hours
When looking at the data, considering what may happen with the pandemic and policy, and considering all of the conversations that I’ve had with job seekers and employers, here are my thoughts on the remainder of the year.
July will likely be slow for hiring optometrists. This is true in a normal year, and will likely continue to remain true throughout 2020. Likely job seeker activity will pick up by the middle of August, and continue to pick up until October. We may see an influx of new candidates looking for both part-time and supplemental fill-in work starting in August as well as practices begin to understand their current practice volume and doctor needs by comparing their 3 month trend to their previous year's numbers.
Optometrists likely will not have a hard time finding jobs; however, they may find that the job offers are not as high as they may have thought, and they may also find that many practices are offering less-than full time hours.
Q1 2020: The year began with healthcare driving job growth
The beginning of the year was off to a great start for the economy and job growth, with 225,000 new jobs added in January alone, according to that month's BLS report. As we move further into 2020, the unemployment rate continues to remain low at 3.6%, although it is up slightly from 3.5% in December. New York Times writer Ben Casselman describes this as a likely side effect of more individuals joining the labor force to look for work.
Data sourced from Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics Survey
Job growth by healthcare sector: eyes on optometry
Healthcare continues to be one of the major drivers in job growth, adding 36,000 of the 225,000 total new jobs in January. Offices of physicians added 6,000 jobs, while offices of dentists added 2,000.
If we extrapolate out the number of optometrists that were added in January based on growth of physicians and dentists, we’re looking at anywhere between 350-400 new jobs in a profession with just over 40,000 total licensed clinicians.
Wages on the rise as optometrist compensation packages adjust
Wages are on the rise, with average hourly earnings up 3.1% from last year to a rate of $28.44 (moderate results at best). Part of the reason for the slowdown in the numbers for base pay could be that employers are continuing to offer performance bonuses at a higher rate, rather than adding to workers’ base compensation.
We’ve seen this to be true in offers for optometrists. Practice owners are continuing to offer performance incentives and retention bonuses rather than raising base pay—more so than we’ve seen in years past. Unfortunately, this strategy is directly opposed to the desires of job seekers, who are seeking a more stable environment and guarantees in their pay rate.
Many optometrists are willing to give up the promise of a bonus for that guarantee of stability, and they’re accepting the offers that are geared more towards their desire.
Additionally, we’re continuing to see corporate practices offering higher base pay to attract talent, causing greater challenges for private practices who are either unable to or unwilling to bring up those base offers.
Optometry hiring is in season
This year’s graduating class gearing up to enter the workforce. As we move through March, we’re seeing more and more 4th year students beginning to search for positions, and a small portion already accepting positions. March and the beginning of April are where we see the most offers accepted throughout the year, and we anticipate this trend remaining the same in 2020.
Hiring optometrists becomes incredibly competitive at this time of year, and it’s critical to get all three stages right—from attracting talent, to the interview process and the offer. “Optometrists, especially new optometrists, understand the job landscape because they’ve done their research,” says Dr. Antonio Chirumbolo, a 2013 graduate from SUNY College of Optometry. “I’ve done a significant amount of mentorship calls this year, and optometrists continue to state their intentions to take a position that not only pays well, but has the culture and the feel that fits with their personality.”
Looking to the future
Look for organizations to become more aggressive with their hiring and hiring tactics in 2020. Historically, workers tend to stay at their jobs longer when times are uncertain compared to times where the economy is in a boom and their options are robust. With all of the economic and policy uncertainty of election year, organizations should be focused on filling vacancies to protect against the long-term impact of uncertain economic conditions.