Market forecasters predict that the eye care industry will grow substantially in the coming years as awareness of eye health improves and the prevalence of various eye disorders around the world increases.
With this boom on the horizon, there’s no time like the present to start working towards a career in the eye care industry. But what kind of eye care doctor do you want to be? There are three main types of eye care specialists: optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians.
To determine which career path is best for you, you need to understand how these professions differ from one another. In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the different responsibilities and qualifications of optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians to help you make an informed decision and set goals for your academic and professional future.
An Introduction to Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist
Optometrists and ophthalmologists are probably the two eye care professions you hear about most often. These are both wonderful, highly-rewarding careers! In fact, optometry is ranked #13 in U.S. News’ best healthcare jobs, #22 in best-paying jobs, and #37 in the overall 100 best jobs in America.
When comparing optometrist vs. ophthalmologist, the most important distinction to make between the two professions is that an optometrist is not technically a medical doctor while an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine. Let’s take a closer look at what this means in terms of specific job responsibilities, education requirements, and qualifications of the positions.
Key Responsibilities of an Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist
While an optometrist is not licensed to practice medicine, they can provide primary vision care and deliver many important eye care services. Key responsibilities of an optometrist include: performing eye exams and vision tests, detecting eye abnormalities, prescribing corrective lenses, and prescribing medications for eye diseases, among others.
In contrast, because an ophthalmologist is a licensed medical doctor, they can provide all the same services as an optometrist, plus medical and surgical eye care. More specifically, they can provide medical care for conditions such as glaucoma, chemical burns, and iritis. They can also provide surgical eye care for eye trauma, cataracts, glaucoma, crossed eyes, and other complex eye problems. Additionally, they can diagnose and treat eye conditions related to other diseases, such as arthritis or diabetes, and even perform plastic surgery for cosmetic issues.
Education & Qualifications of an Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist
To become an optometrist, one must complete three or more years of college and four years of optometry school in order to obtain a doctor of optometry (OD) degree. Before practicing optometry, some optometrists complete additional clinical training or a specialty fellowship after optometry school, though this is not required. Some examples of specialty areas for optometry are binocular vision, pediatrics, contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation, and community eye care.
In contrast, an ophthalmologist must complete four years of medical school and a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year hospital-based residency in ophthalmology. Some ophthalmologists then go on to complete an additional 2-year specialty fellowship. Some possible ophthalmology specialties include strabismus/pediatric ophthalmology, the treatment of glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, retina/uveitis, anterior segment/cornea, refractive/vision-correcting surgery, oculoplastics/orbit, and ocular oncology.
Furthermore, ophthalmologists in the United States must obtain a license to practice medicine from the state where they plan to practice ophthalmology. Each state has different licensing requirements and a three-part exam that must be completed at different stages of your medical school and residency.
Optician vs Optometrist or Ophthalmologist
Let’s not forget about opticians! Opticians are a level below optometrists in terms of education requirements and other qualifications. An optician does not necessarily need to hold a formal degree and can become certified by completing a 1- to 2-year program or in-house apprenticeship under an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Opticians mainly focus on helping customers choose eyewear and contact lenses, including measuring, fitting, and adjusting eyeglass frames. They perform customer service duties and can answer general eye care questions, but they are not certified to examine, diagnose, or treat eye conditions or diseases.
What is a Medical Optometrist?
A medical optometrist is an emerging type of optometrist. The job duties and qualifications of this profession are similar to that of a standard optometrist, but with more sub-specialty focus and training. Whereas standard optometrists’ main focus is routine vision care, and ophthalmologists’ is ophthalmic surgery, medical optometrists fall somewhere in between with a primary focus on medical eye care.
Other Optical Eye Care Professions
In addition to the eye care professions highlighted above, there are many supporting roles one can take in an optometry or ophthalmology practice. These include optometric assistant, ophthalmic assistant, optometric technician, ophthalmic technician, and optometry or ophthalmology office manager. Optometry or ophthalmology consulting is another opportunity to consider later on in your eye care career, once you have more experience and expertise under your belt. To explore these eye care professionals in more detail, check out our overview of the best optometry jobs.
Excelling in Optometry with PECAA’s Support
No matter what your academic and professional goals are, PECAA can help you excel in the eye care industry! For optometry or ophthalmology students, we offer a free student membership. This is a unique and valuable opportunity to build your professional network and gain inside knowledge about the eye care industry so that you can get a jump start on your career.
For early-stage professionals, joining PECAA’s community of independent eye care professionals will equip you with everything you need to be successful, including networking opportunities, consulting services, marketing support, staff training resources, coaching, practice valuations, group discounts and rebates, and so much more. Book a discovery call today to learn more!