What is an Optometrist?
Optometrists, or Doctors of Optometry, are primary health care providers who specialize in the examination, diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and the eye's associated structures, as well as the diagnoses and management of related systemic conditions that affect the eye.
Doctors of Optometry
A Doctor of Optometry typically completes four years of undergraduate education in a college or university leading to a Bachelors degree (B.A. or B.S.) followed by four years of professional education in an accredited college of optometry which includes both graduate level didactic education and extensive clinical training. Successful completion of both the didactic and clinical formal optometric education leads to the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. After obtaining the Doctor of Optometry degree some optometrists continue and complete advanced residency training in an optometric specialty such as medical optometry, low vision, pediatrics or contact lenses. Doctors of optometry must pass a rigorous national board examination administered over the course of several years by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO), and often an additional state board examination, prior to receiving a license to practice optometry, and must meet state mandated continuing education requirements to maintain their license. The process of extensive formal education, clinical training, and board examinations ensure that a licensed optometrist is competent as a specialist in care of the eyes and vision.
As primary eye care providers, optometrists serve as an integral part of the health care team and an entry point into the health care system for many people. They are skilled in the co-management of care that affects the eye health and vision of their patients and are an excellent source of referral to other health care professionals.
The Three-O's: Ophthalmology, Optometry, and Opticianary
There is often confusion regarding the three O's of eye care. Opticians are not doctors and do not have advanced degrees or clinical training. They cannot exam eyes, prescribe glasses, contact lenses, or medications. Optician's fill prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses written by optometrists and ophthalmologists. Ophthalmologists, like optometrists, are doctors that have specialized in eye care. In addition to the training optometrists have in the treatment and management of ocular disease, ophthalmologists also have advanced training in ocular surgery. Ophthalmologists complete a general medical education leading to the M.D. degree, then typically receive three years of training in eye surgery and the treatment and management of eye disease. Just as some optometrists go on to complete specialized training in fields such as contact lens practice and medical optometry, some ophthalmologists further specialize by completing additional training in areas such as retinal disease and cataracts. There is a great deal of overlap between the ocular training and scope of practice of ophthalmologists and optometrists. Both perform eye examinations, prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, and diagnose and treat common diseases of the eye such as conjunctivitis (pink eye) and glaucoma.