For optometry students, the official licensing exam—termed the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO)—is not taken lightly.
The test is very difficult to pass, and it determines the fate of an optometry student’s career. Passing the NBEO is the light at the end of a diligent four-year tunnel of curriculum, clinical rotations, and test-taking.
A recent court motion has created noise among optometry students, recent graduates, and practicing optometrists alike. If the matter is not resolved soon, the many new graduates planning to practice optometry in the state of Florida may be forced to delay their career and potentially retake the NBEO exam. Retaking the exam would cost significant time and resources.
It is critical to consider all facets of this matter including the detrimental effects it could have on our fellow optometry students and graduates.
In 2014, the Florida Board of Optometry had a rule stating that applicants for licensure in Florida must obtain passing scores on the NBEO exam within a seven-year period immediately before licensure application.
In 2016, there were efforts that urged the Board to modify the “seven-year rule,” as it did not allow optometrists from other states to use their NBEO exam scores older than seven years to obtain licensure. The underlying objective was to allow applicants to be able to use their scores on all parts of the exam that had been obtained at any time prior to their licensure application.
At the time, the Board of Optometry did not budge on the seven-year rule; however, just recently in 2017, a judge declared the seven-year rule as invalid, specifying that the rule ignores language found in the law that states the Board must certify an applicant as eligible prior to the applicant taking the NBEO exam. If this language sticks, the Board will no longer consider any scores from the NBEO exam taken before a candidate files an application in Florida.
Since most optometry students take Parts I, II and III of the NBEO exam during their student years before they apply for licensure, it’s apparent how this ruling would be detrimental to so many.
To date, Florida law has required optometry students to complete a rigorous curriculum, which includes taking the NBEO exam Parts I, II and III throughout their educational career as third- and fourth-year students to meet graduation requirements. Then, the candidates submit an application for licensure to obtain their optometry license.
If the recent oversight is approved, this raises a problem for current optometry students. Students would be required to have an existing application for licensure on file prior to taking any part of the NBEO exam. But, with the law to date, it’s clear that applying for a Florida licensure prior to taking the exam is not feasible for current students, as they have not yet graduated or completed the allotted course hours stated in the application for Florida licensure.
Current students and recent graduates are extremely concerned with the status of this decision. If this previously overlooked rule is to come into effect, practicing optometrists and upcoming graduates will suddenly be unable to use their NBEO exam scores they completed prior to achieving licensure in Florida. Additionally, since the seven-year rule has been invalidated, there is no flexibility to receive a situational waiver or variance.
If the ruling stands, it is suggested that many Florida optometry students would be required to retake the NBEO exam, creating a great deal of financial and professional hardship.
Students in the graduating class of 2017 who wish to practice in Florida may be required to retake Parts I, II and III of the NBEO exam. This would delay their career growth extensively.
This issue is not only detrimental to fourth-year students just shy of graduating but also to underclassmen who have already taken part of their boards and to practicing optometrists who wish to practice or are currently practicing in the state of Florida. Their life plans would take a backburner as they prepare to retake the NBEO.
Additionally, the NBEO indicates the pass rates for those retaking the exam are up to 10 percent lower than first-time candidates. These rates present a level of uncertainty for test repeaters.
In addition to undue financial hardship from career setback, retaking the NBEO would create a financial burden for current students and recent graduates due to the inability to proceed with their intended jobs. The money spent to repay board examination fees would not be a small amount.
In tandem, students are required to begin paying student loans six months following graduation, with often over $250,000 in debt accrued upon exit of optometry school. Deferment on student loan payments would not be uncommon.
Similar to a delay in career growth and potential wage loss, students and practicing optometrists would be forced to waste time and resources preparing for the NBEO a second time.
NewGradOptometry, LLC has been inundated with emails from current optometry students concerned that they are being overlooked in this potential change in the law. If the issue is not resolved quickly to exempt students from retaking the NBEO, these almost-graduates will have to push back the start of their careers.
As the Florida Optometric Association is working on a solution to this issue, it is the hope of many that a workable solution will come to fruition quickly in order to maintain a financially and professionally healthy future for optometry students and graduates alike. Students who have not yet taken the NBEO exam should consider filing a Florida application before taking the test.
Students have asked that NewGradOptometry help spread awareness of the damaging effects this would have on their livelihood and state of their career, and we sincerely hope that you do, too. Contact the Florida Optometric Association to join us in standing up for this important cause.
- Florida Board of Optometry chair, Stuart Kaplan OD — 239-542-2020
- Vice chair, Carl Spear O.D. — 850-479-7379
- Program operations admin, Gail Curry: [email protected]
How Optometry Students Feel
“We have taken and passed about 170 credit hours of doctoral level coursework, worked unpaid as optometric interns for over 2000 hours, treated over 1200 patients under licensed supervision, sacrificed 8+ years to our education, taken out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and passed all of our board examinations, and are therefore qualified to work independently as licensed optometrists in the State of Florida. We aren’t asking for special treatment; we’re asking for the law to be appropriately written to allow for a clear path to licensure in Florida. Many of us were responsible enough to find employment opportunities and residency positions immediately after graduation; now our opportunities have been sabotaged. My classmates and myself are facing hardship from approximately a year of lost wages and the mental stress of preparing for and re-taking these strenuous board exams, as well as the fees associated with each exam.” – Erica Benson, M.S., NSU College of Optometry, Class of 2017
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- National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Statistical Report of the Part I (Applied Basic Science) Examination. March 2016 Administration. Accessed 5/1/2017.
- National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Statistical Report of the Part II (PAM) Examination. April 2016 Administration. Accessed 5/1/2017.
- National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Statistical Report of the Part III Clinical Skills Examination (CSE) 2015. Accessed 5/1/2017.