Optometry Students at The Eye InstituteIf you’re an optometrist or physician assistant (PA) coming out of Salus University with a degree, you’d better make sure you have one more thing at your disposal as you enter the workforce: a bigger wallet.

According to the latest available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported recently by the Philadelphia Business Journal, optometrists rank No. 7 and physician assistants rank No. 48 in the top 50 highest-paying jobs in the Philadelphia region that earn between $100,000 and $150,000.

The 740 optometrists in the region are pulling down an average salary of $138,450 while the PAs are earning an average of $103,560.

Are Salus students aware of their higher earning potential when they enter the University? And, just how does the University prepare them for those high-paying jobs?

“In terms of earning potential of optometry, the biggest thing is that there’s a bunch of avenues that you can go down in terms of what optometry is,” said Bhawan Minhas, OD, FAAO, director of on-campus residency programs, primary care/ocular disease residency coordinator and assistant professor in the University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO).

“If you want to go into private practice and turn it into your own business, that’s a huge draw for some people who come into optometry,” said Dr. Minhas. “If you want to go into an academic environment, there are opportunities there. If you want to work with an OD/MD practice or in a commercial retailer, those are options as well.”

According to Dr. Minhas, the thing that Salus does that helps students position themselves for high-paying jobs is that its programs have a robust and up-to-date curricula that includes training in all of these areas. “We call it baptism by fire. They’re put into all the different services, all the different specialties. They get a little taste for everything and then they can decide what they want,” she said.

Ryan Yee with PatientThat’s working out quite well for Ryan Yee, a student from Toronto who is in the last year of the Accelerated Scholars Doctor of Optometry Program, who wants to specialize in cornea and contact lenses.

“We started clinic really early, even before my first year was over,” said Yee. “We were thrown into what we would be doing right off the bat when we graduate. You learn with doctors guiding you through everything, what you need to do in certain situations. And I think that’s really helped me grow as an individual and as a clinician.”
He’s also aware that it puts him in a position to have a lucrative career down the road. “It helps to know that once I graduate, I will have the opportunity to pay off my student loans,” said Yee.

It’s worked out pretty good so far for Alexandra Adolph-Gothier and Michael Guerriere, both October 2018 graduates of the PA program. They married in June 2019 and have moved to the Baltimore area to pursue their careers.

“The way Salus prepared us the most to maximize what we were going to be paid was to be confident in our skills and not necessarily require as much post-graduate training as some PAs may need as far as residency may go,” said Adolph-Gothier. “They started our clinical training much sooner than other programs. And they emphasized the need for us to think as independent practitioners, not as students, well before we graduated.”

Adolph-Gothier, originally from Baltimore, works in the division of colon and rectal surgery as well as general surgery at MedStar Franklin Square Hospital in her hometown. Guerriere, originally from New York, works in neurosurgery and neurology at Sinai Hospital, also in Baltimore.

PA AlumniBoth say they are “easily” within the average salary range for PAs in the Philadelphia region.

“Entering the program (at Salus), I would hope that most students would have done the research and a cost-benefit analysis, what they were putting in as far as what they would be getting out of it,” said Guerriere. “As far as input and output, we get a pretty good output for what we put in.”

Not only is the pay good for optometrists and PAs who graduate from Salus, the job market is pretty favorable for both professions as well.

“There are very few things outside of medical/medicine that you can graduate with and essentially be guaranteed a job,” said Dr. Laine Higa, assistant professor at PCO. “It may not be your dream job and it may not be Monday through Friday. But you can find work full-time and pay your student loans back, absolutely, whether it’s in rural Mississippi or Philadelphia.”

He believes that the level of care provided by an optometrist, whether it be in contact lens fittings or managing chronic ocular diseases like glaucoma, requires a certain amount of intellect and effort that is reflected in your salary. And, that the PCO curriculum positions its students for the highest degree of success when it comes to earning potential.

“If you come to PCO, you will be trained so that if you want to practice in Kentucky or Oklahoma, you have the background knowledge to then be eligible to take their licensing exams,” said Dr. Higa.

Dr. Higa stresses that the salary a Salus graduate will make also is commensurate with the responsibility that one takes on.

“Yes, you get paid a nice salary, but when I’m on vacation, I’m not really on vacation. I’m no longer a lay person,” said Dr. Higa. “As a doctor, you have patients who look to you as someone different. They hold you to a higher standard. That’s something you always have to be cognizant of.”