Community Health Centers
Although the number of optometrists employed in community and rural health services is low, there is increasing recognition that the addition of optometrists benefits the full spectrum of health care. Currently, about 18% of federally qualified health centers provide in-house eye care services in comparison with dentistry at about 60 percent coverage. With a limited number of qualified health centers providing eye care services, those seeking care do not have equal access to eye care services nationwide. This limited vision coverage has been recognized by the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Rural Health Association. Both of these associations have called for the inclusion of optometrists in the National Health Service Corps as a means to address the shortfall in vision services that community health centers may offer.
National Health Service Corps
The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) is a program of the Department of Health and Human Resources and Services Administration and is administered by HRSA’s Bureau of Primary Health which is the focal point for providing primary care to underserved and vulnerable populations. The NHSC assists in the development, recruitment and retention of community-responsive clinicians dedicated to practicing in health professional shortage areas. The NHSC offers scholarship and loan repayment programs (in return for obligated service). Currently optometry is not eligible to participate in the NHSC programs however, the AOA has initiated a plan for inclusion in NHSC. The AOA has enlisted the support of the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Rural Health Association to promote programs of comprehensive vision care including the addition of optometry to the NHSC.