Optometrists diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes.
What they do
Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.
Optometrists typically do the following:
- Perform vision tests and analyze results
- Diagnose sight problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, and eye diseases, such as glaucoma
- Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids, and if state law permits, medications
- Perform minor surgical procedures to correct or treat visual or eye health issues
- Provide treatments such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation
- Provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing eye surgery—for example, examining a patient’s eyes the day after surgery
- Evaluate patients for the presence of other diseases and conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and refer patients to other healthcare providers as needed
- Promote eye and general health by counseling patients
Some optometrists spend much of their time providing specialized care, particularly if they are working in a group practice with other optometrists or physicians. For example, some optometrists mostly treat patients with only partial sight, a condition known as low vision. Others may focus on treating infants and children.
Optometrists promote eye health and counsel patients on how general health can affect eyesight. For example, they may counsel patients on how quitting smoking or losing weight can reduce vision problems.
Many optometrists own their practice, and those who do may spend more time on general business activities, such as hiring employees, ordering supplies, and marketing their business.
Optometrists also may work as postsecondary teachers, do research in optometry colleges, or work as consultants in the eye care industry.
Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and treat eye diseases in addition to performing eye exams and prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. Opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, fill contact lens prescriptions that an optometrist or ophthalmologist has written.
Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.
How to become an Optometrist
Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. O.D. programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering such a program.
Optometrists need an O.D. degree. In 2016, there were 20 accredited O.D. programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico.
Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education. Required courses include those in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. Most students have a bachelor’s degree with a premedical or biological sciences emphasis before enrolling in an O.D. program.
Applicants to O.D. programs must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), a computerized exam that tests applicants in four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.
O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.
After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize. Areas of specialization for residency programs include family practice, low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.
All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. degree from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam.
Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on laws relating to optometry. All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.
Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become board certified by the American Board of Optometry
The median annual wage for optometrists was $115,250 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $194,100.
Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will lead to demand for optometrists. As people age, they become more susceptible to conditions that impair vision, such as cataracts and macular degeneration, and will need vision care.
Similar Job Titles
Chief, Optometry Service; Doctor of Optometry (OD); Eye Clinic Manager; Optometrist; Optometrist, Owner; Optometrist, President/Practice Owner; Optometrist/Practice Owner
Health Specialties Teacher-Postsecondary
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Academy of Optometry
- American Board of Optometry
- American Optometric Association
- American Public Health Association
- Beta Sigma Kappa
- College of Optometrists in Vision Development
- International Society of Refractive Surgery
- National Association of Veteran Affairs Optometrists
- Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association
Magazines and Publications
While their iconic testing device— known as a phoropter— and the rows of ever-shrinking letters on a vision test… may look like something out of Victorian times… in reality, optometrists use state-of-the-art science and technology to examine patients’ vision. In addition to diagnosing sight problems, optometrists prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision, and they may perform minor surgeries. They also diagnose and treat eye diseases or injuries and manage other eye disorders. Optometrists rely on interpersonal skills to help patients feel at ease and respond effectively to vision testing. At vision check-ups, they counsel patients on how broader health care affects eyesight, and promote good eye health practices. The accuracy of their prescription relies both on their technical skills and a clear understanding between doctor and patient. Most optometrists work in offices of optometry. Others work in doctors’ offices, optical goods stores, or are self-employed. Optometrists work full time, and may work weekends or evenings to accommodate their patients’ needs. Optometrists must complete a 4-year Doctor of Optometry program and be licensed to practice in a particular state. They must also pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam. Doctoral program applicants must have completed at least 3 years of college that include courses in biology, chemistry, physics, English and math.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org