I’m here to tell you about what it takes to start practicing as an optometrist in Canada after getting your education at an optometry school in the US. I, like many of my colleagues, obtained my optometry degree at a US institution and made the decision to travel back home to Canada to get my career started.
There are many hurdles to overcome when wrapping up your degree and planning to enter into the workforce. These can include costs associated with traveling to take Canadian board exams and provincial jurisprudence exams while in your fourth year and joining provincial associations upon graduating. It is amazing how these expenses tend to creep up after you’ve spent all of your budgeted school money and haven’t started working yet. Figuring out what each province requires would be an article for itself and I have listed some websites on the bottom to help direct your search.
As great as the internet is, Google doesn't have it all, especially when it comes to starting as a new OD in Canada. There were many Canadian stereotypes that had been established during my four years of optometry school at an American institution. Some of these stereotypes were well established and some were created by myself and my colleagues. All of them were in the back of my mind when I was about to start looking for a job in Canada.
Here is a list of some of these stereotypes!
1. All optometry patients say “ZED”
This in fact became mostly true! After four years of hearing “T Zee V E C L” it was very refreshing to know I was indeed back home as it was mostly pronounced as “Zed” by my patients.
2. Deregulation of eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions by the British Columbia (BC) government has decreased the need for optometrists in this province
(For those of you that don’t know, on May 1, 2010 British Columbia became the only jurisdiction in North America to allow automated refraction, eyeglass and contact lens sales without verification of a prescription)
I argue that this is not true, but has definitely been a challenge for optometry in BC and a major setback in protecting the health of our patients. This change has caused us to be more competitive with the products we offer, but opened the door to focus on the services we provide that cannot be purchased online.
3. Optometrists are unable to practice medical optometry
This is definitely NOT true. In many cases we do not have the same prescribing authority or scope of practice as certain states south of the border, but we have the ability to treat our patients with great care. No matter where you choose to practice you will be required to practice within the laws that are in place. Never let the perceived notion of being restricted by government prevent you from providing care to your patients. Know the rules and practice to the best of your abilities within them.
See this link for prescribing authority by province: http://opto.ca/provincial-prescribing-authority
4. The wait time to see doctors, optometrists included, is very long
This is definitely NOT true. One of the biggest benefits I have over many is that I am able to offer short wait times to my patients, many times taking in walk-in patients at my downtown location.
5. Optometrists are unable to advertise ‘specialty’ training
In many provinces there are special bylaws in place that state ‘marketing must not imply that you can obtain results not achievable by other registrants’. This indeed makes it difficult to promote yourself as a Contact Lens Specialist, but don’t let it deter you from promoting the services you provide and the training you’ve had.
6. All health care is covered in Canada, eye care included
This is not true, and one of the most common misconceptions that my American friends would have of the Canadian healthcare system. It is true that in many cases we have access to healthcare coverage, but it is not all inclusive.
Many provinces will have coverage, or pay a portion, for eye care services, but there are some provinces that don’t cover any eye care at all.
-Canadian Association of Optometrists - http://opto.ca/