Optometrist Rita Sum's job goes beyond prescribing glasses and contact lenses - she serves as the first line of defence against various illnesses.
Eye care professionals working in clinics carry out examinations for patients. Sum says: "Apart from diagnosing common problems such as short and long-sightedness and prescribing glasses, we detect diseases like diabetes and hypertension and refer patients to specialists. We are the primary eye care service provider."
Optometrists also provide eye training exercise to patients, especially children with problems such as lazy eyes and deviating eyes, Sum adds.
"I love my job because I am able to help people," she says.
Polytechnic University (PolyU) is the only institution in Hong Kong offering a bachelor's degree in optometry. To become qualified, graduates have to register with the government's Hong Kong Optometrists Board. Those working in clinics start their career as an optometrist and earn a monthly salary of about HK$20,000. After five years, they are eligible for the role as senior optometrist, earning about HK$30,000.
Optical shops hire optometrists to do check-ups and prescribe glasses. Increasingly, they are providing complete eye-health checks. Professor To Chi-ho, associate head of PolyU's school of optometry, says the demand for optometrists has never been greater. "Optical shops and clinics are concerned about a shortage of graduates," he says.
"Some optical chain stores have slowed their plans to develop on the mainland, as they haven't been able to employ sufficient optometrists."
He adds that 700 to 800 optometrists are expected to retire in the next four to five years.
"The 35 graduates PolyU produces each year won't fill the void. The school and the government have been discussing the possibility of increasing the number to 50. Hopefully the plan will materialise soon," To says.