The percentage of women ODs in the U.S. rose in 2023. In a significant 1% jump – not as high as the previous year – women now comprise 48.3 percent of total practicing ODs, according to Women In Optometry (WO) data. WO has been running an analysis of women in practice for 11 years, tracking the makeup of the profession.
This penetration of women in the profession is more than 10 percentage points higher than it was in 2012. In the 2023 report, WO noted that the almost two percent jump over the prior year was a dramatic increase. Most years, the numbers increase by about one percentage point or even less.
IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC
In the WO report from 2022, it showed that the profession saw only a net gain of fewer than 200 new ODs. That may have been be due to a larger-than-average number of ODs retiring or people taking a pause during the pandemic year of 2021.
For several years in a row, the number of male ODs has been decreasing: 219 in 2022, 758 in 2023 and 88 in this 2024 report. The reports are created in the first days of January, so the comparison points are January 2024 versus January 2023.
This year’s report shows a gain of nearly 1,000 women ODs in practice, and a total increase of 922 in ODs. According to the American Schools and Colleges of Optometry, 1728 students graduated from optometry school in 2022. (2023 statistics are not included in that report.) However, the changes in composition of the profession are not due exclusively to the numbers of new graduates. Optometrists may have taken some time off from practice and re-entered the workforce.
MOST STATES SAW INCREASES IN PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN ODs
Twelve states saw a slight decrease in the percentage of women in practice: Illinois, Alabama, Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Washington, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Idaho and Utah.
Overall, there are 10 states plus the Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. where women ODs make up more than 50% of the total: Massachusetts, California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii and Virginia.
MORE WOMEN COMING IN, MORE MEN RETIRING
For at least the past 18 years, the number of optometry school students enrolling in the first year of optometry school has topped 60 percent. In the fall of 2023, 70% of the incoming class in North American schools and colleges of optometry were women. Read the WO story here.
The data resource listings include age breakdowns for about 65% of the total ODs, but WO put the available data for the approximately 38,000 ODs for whom age and gender is listed into this chart.
This data shows that among younger ODs, there are significantly more women. This mirrors optometry school enrollment of the past 20 years. It also shows that a large majority of ODs over age 61 are male.
WO uses healthgrades.com for its annual comparison. Despite some flaws, such as double-counts for ODs who practice in more than one state or even in more than one practice location, the numbers do provide a consistent data set for comparison each year. Those same challenges with counting practitioners who hold multiple licenses also exist within state licensing boards, and some state licensing boards do not ask ODs to specify gender.
Healthgrades.com lists 574 ODs for whom it does not specify male or female gender. For the purpose of calculating the percentage, WO divides the number of those listed as female by the total number in each state listed as either male or female.
Featured image credit: Getty Images/Dmitrii_Guzhanin