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Doctor's orders: the quest for a profession-specific doctorate in optometry finally came to fruition in 2008, but it is now time for an entry-level doctorate, proposes Professor Rishi Agarwal.

Doctor of Optometry is a post-graduate qualification in the UK and is currently offered in two places--London South Bank University, jointly with the Institute of Optometry, and at Aston University. An entry-level, profession-specific doctorate in optometry is presently not offered at any British university.

For several medical professions in the US and Canada, university leads to the award of a first professional degree--that is an entry-level professional doctorate--and is a requirement for professional licensing and entry into certain professions, such as medicine, dentistry and optometry. After qualifying, those interested in pursuing an academic career can study further for additional qualifications such as a PhD.

My quest for a profession-specific doctorate in optometry in the UK began in 1961 when I attended the International Ophthalmic Optical congress held in London. Learning about the diverse ways of how optometry was practised around the world naturally encouraged my scrutiny, and it was particularly inspiring to meet Americans qualified with a doctor of optometry degree. At the time, when considering the professional healthcare culture in the UK, it was obvious that the opportunity of an entry-level doctorate in the UK was not yet possible--and so my quest began.

In the late 12th century, the title of doctor was used by the recipients of the doctor of medicine degree at the University of Oxford; the use of the traditional title continued after the formation of the General Medical Council in 1858 and the award of combined bachelor MBBS degrees. Presently, the recipients of medical degrees, PhDs and other doctorates from a recognised institution are entitled to use the title. In recent years, this privilege has been extended to British dentists.

More recently, the UK Council for Graduate Education defined a professional doctorate in 2005 as 'an award at doctoral level where the field of study is a professional discipline and which is distinguished from the PhD by a title that refers to that profession.'


Considering the distinct alignments that optometry as a profession had with with these definitions, I initiated negotiations with London South Bank University (LSBU) in 2005, and, in 2008, these led to the launch of a profession-specific postgraduate doctorate in optometry at LSBU, jointly with the Institute of Optometry. Aston University followed this, launching a post-graduate, profession-specific doctorate in optometry the same year.

However, the quest is not over. Unlike UK dentists, optometrists do not yet have the right to use the 'doctor' title without holding a doctoral qualification, and this will probably require the approval of statutory and relevant professional bodies in the UK.

Entry-level professional doctoral degrees are already offered in several countries, and it should also be noted that in the UK a doctorate in clinical psychology is already accepted as an entry-level qualification for clinical practice.

It only seems fair that, eventually, an entry-level doctorate in optometry, accredited by the General Optical Council, should be offered at UK universities.


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Professor Rishi Agarwal is director of postgraduate education at the Institute of Optometry and visiting professor to the Faculty of Health and Social Care, London South Bank University
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Title Annotation:PERSPECTIVES
Author:Agarwal, Rishi
Publication:Optometry Today
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 1, 2016
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