What Is an Optometrist?

Medically Reviewed

While optometrists don't attend medical school, they do receive four years of professional education at a college of optometry.

An optometrist is a non-medical professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases, injuries, and disorders of the eye and visual system.

Optometrists can do the following:

  • Perform eye exams and vision tests
  • Prescribe and dispense corrective lenses
  • Detect some eye abnormalities
  • Prescribe medications for some eye diseases
  • Guide rehabilitation for low vision
  • Offer vision therapy
  • Counsel about surgical and non-surgical options
  • Perform some surgical procedures

Optometrist Training and Education

Optometrists do not attend medical school.

After graduating from a college or university, aspiring optometrists receive four years of professional education at a college of optometry.

Once finished, they have obtained a doctor of optometry (OD) degree.

Some optometrists go on to complete a residency in a specific area of optometry.

Optometrists must become licensed in the state where they practice.

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist

Optometrists are not medical doctors, whereas ophthalmologists are.

After receiving an undergraduate degree, ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school and one year of an internship.

Then they spend at least three years as a resident in a hospital setting, receiving training in all aspects of eye care including prevention, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and injuries.

Opticians are technicians trained to design and fit glasses lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight.

They must complete a two-year degree in opticianry or a 6,000-hour apprenticeship before passing a state licensing exam.

Where Do Optometrists Work?

The Bureaus of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most optometrists work in private offices.

Other locations where they may work include:

  • Doctors' offices
  • Retail stores
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Hospitals

Most optometrists work full-time, with some working evenings and weekends to accommodate patients.

The BLS also estimates that in May 2012, the median yearly salary for optometrists was $97,820.

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