What Is An Optometrist?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 28, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated October 28, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An optometrist is a doctor that can provide a variety of eye care services. They are different from other eye care professionals, such as opticians and ophthalmologists. An optometrist will be able to offer more services than an optician, and an ophthalmologist will be able to provide more services than an optometrist. In this article, we discuss what optometrists do and the differences between opticians, ophthalmologists and optometrists.

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist is an eye care professional who has obtained a Doctor of Optometry degree (OD) and is trained on overall eye health. Optometrists may examine your eyes for vision corrections and health problems. They can prescribe contact lenses and eyeglasses to correct refractive errors and can detect vision defects, eye injuries, ocular abnormalities and health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Optometrists may also make health assessments and offer clinical advice to patients.

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What do optometrists do?

An optometrist can perform a variety of tasks that go further than eye tests and fitting for glasses. Here is a list of what optometrists do:

  • Detects defects in vision: Optometrists are trained to examine the eyes to detect signs of injury and vision defects.

  • Performs eye examinations and vision tests: Optometrists can conduct vision tests and eye examinations to identify refractive errors.

  • Makes health assessments: Based on an eye examination, an optometrist can make health assessments such as diagnosing for diabetes and high blood pressure.

  • Prescribes eyeglasses and contact lenses: An optometrist will correct refractive errors by prescribing and fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses.

  • Treats conditions: Optometrists can treat conditions such as astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness.

  • Provides vision therapy: An optometrist can prescribe vision therapy to help enhance visual skills and rehabilitate eyesight.

  • Prescribes medications: An optometrist is licensed to prescribe medications that can treat diseases related to the eyes.

Related: The Difference Between an O.D. and an M.D.: Optometrists vs. Ophthalmologists

How are optometrists different from other eye doctors?

There are significant differences between eye care professionals and what capabilities each possesses. Here are the similarities and differences in education, licenses and services offered between the three types of eye care professionals:

  1. Optometrist

  2. Ophthalmologist

  3. Optician

1. Optometrist

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry (O.D.) who provides eye care services.

Education

Becoming a doctor of optometry (O.D.) takes between seven to nine years to complete. An aspiring optometrist starts their education by completing three or four years of college with an emphasis on pre-med subjects and earning a bachelor's degree. They must then pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), which determines their skill level in quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, science and physics.

After passing the OAT, the aspiring optometrist must complete four years of education at an accredited school of optometry to obtain their OD. They may additionally complete a one-year clinical residency to gain experience in a specialty such as ocular disease or low vision rehabilitation. After nine years, an optometrist can take the next step of taking a state licensing exam.

License

Once an optometrist obtains an OD degree, the doctor must pass an exam given by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry to become licensed in their state. Some states may require an optometrist to pass additional exams related to clinical practice.

Services offered

A licensed optometrist can provide services including prescribing medications, providing vision therapy, treating eye conditions, prescribing glasses and contact lenses, making health assessments, performing eye examinations and vision tests and detecting signs of injury and vision defects.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become an Optometrist and Other Optometry FAQs

2. Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine (M.D.) who provides medical and surgical eye care.

Education

Becoming an ophthalmologist requires achieving a doctor of medicine (M.D.) and takes between 12 to 14 years to complete. An aspiring ophthalmologist begins their educational journey by completing four years of college and achieving a bachelor's degree. Next, they must pass the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which determines their skill level in critical reasoning and medical sciences.

Once the aspiring doctor passes the MCAT, they begin medical school. During their four years of medical school, they must pass two tests. The first two years of medical school include lectures and practical experience. Then, the US Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 must be passed. After two years of practical training and rotations, they must pass USMLE Step 2. Once four years of medical school is completed in addition to passing the USMLE Step 1 and 2, the aspiring doctor moves forward to their internship.

The one-year accredited internship from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is a direct patient care internship. Once this is complete, the physician becomes board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) and can move forward to their residency.

The residency lasts between three to four years and must also be ACGME-accredited. Once they complete their residency, the doctor becomes fully accredited to practice medicine as a licensed doctor. This education, testing, internship and residency process takes between 12 to 14 years to become a fully licensed doctor. Even then, the doctor may decide to continue their training and education with a fellowship that can last another year or longer.

License

A Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) license is obtained once they are board-certified by the ABO after the completion of their one-year internship. However, a doctor of ophthalmology is only fully licensed to practice medicine once they successfully complete their residency.

Services offered

An ophthalmologist is a fully-licensed doctor of medicine (M.D.) and can provide complete eye care services. On top of being able to provide every service that an optometrist can provide, an ophthalmologist can offer these additional services:

  • Medical eye care for glaucoma, chemical burns and iritis

  • Diagnosis and treatment of diseases including diabetes and arthritis

  • Surgical eye care for crossed eyes, cataracts, glaucoma and trauma

  • Plastic surgery to smooth wrinkles or raise drooping eyelids

3. Optician

An optician is an eye care professional who provides prescription filling and eyeglass fitting.

Related: Jobs That Don't Require a Degree

Education

Becoming an optician takes between two to five years to complete. An aspiring optician will start by completing two years of college to earn a certificate or associate degree. This education includes classes, laboratory work and practical training.

After earning a certificate or associate degree in opticianry, an apprenticeship is the next step and lasts about two years. Some states won't require an apprenticeship at all, while others will require a specific amount of years and hours of work.

License

Once an optician completes an apprenticeship, they must attain state licensure in many states. Licensing boards may use certification exams from the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). Some states may additionally require a practical exam.

Once an optician obtains state licensure, an optician will earn certifications from ABO and NCLE to become a certified optician.

Services offered

Opticians are eye care professionals that can provide eyeglass and contact lens services. Here is what an optician can do:

  • Checks lens prescriptions

  • Takes facial measurements

  • Assists customers with lens and frame choices

  • Provides glasses and contact lenses

  • Adjusts and repairs glasses and contact lenses

  • Orders glasses, lenses and contacts

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