Family optometry is an incredibly rewarding career, both financially and otherwise, but it’s not for everyone. Providing family eye care to patients of vastly different ages and stages of development can be challenging. You will need special skills and knowledge to succeed in serving entire families and providing the highest possible quality of eye care. Luckily, we have plenty of family optometrist resources and tips to support you on your family optometry academic and professional journey!
What is a Family Optometry Practice?
As you probably know, an optometrist is a healthcare professional that provides primary vision care. A standard optometry degree is primarily focused on providing eye care for adults. A family optometry practice serves patients of all ages, including both adults and children. Because a family optometrist is qualified to serve entire families under the same roof, they must be competent in pediatric optometry as well as standard optometry. Providing eye care to children requires some specific skills and knowledge, but it comes with incredible benefits.
Reasons to Practice Family Optometry
It’s incredibly fulfilling to be able to serve entire families at the same optometry practice. When you can provide eye care to all family members, you can develop stronger relationships with your patients and improve patient loyalty/retention. You may even have the opportunity to serve the same family for multiple generations. When you have patients that stay with your practice from childhood into adulthood, you have the chance to witness their symptoms and quality of life improve over time as a result of the care you provide– and there’s nothing more rewarding than that!
There are plenty of practical reasons to practice family optometry as well. Pediatric optometry is a financially rewarding career, with most pediatric optometrists in the United States earning between $100,434 and $125,670, on average. Most pediatric optometrists enjoy a comfortable work-life balance, with fewer after-hours emergencies and on-call responsibilities compared to other healthcare professions. You’ll also have more career opportunities available to you; a specialization in pediatrics under your belt makes you a more well-rounded and competitive applicant.
Important Skills for Complete Family Eye Care
To succeed in family eye care, you’ll need excellent communication skills. As a family optometrist, you’ll be working with family members of all ages. Young children and adults can have vastly different types of communication, so you will need to be adaptable and flexible in your communication style. Clear communication is essential in ensuring cooperation during exams and procedures, as well as making sure that patients and family members understand your diagnoses and recommendations. Paying close attention to nonverbal cues is especially important when working with younger children.
Other important skills for family eye care include patience, attention to detail, determination, adaptability, and advocacy. Family optometrists are mandatory reporters of child abuse in all 50 states and must be prepared to recognize and report suspected cases in accordance with the law. Overall, to succeed in family optometry, you should feel passionate about working with children and advocating for their best interests– this will make the challenges well worth the extra time and effort.
Getting Your Pediatric Eye Doctor Specialization
Training and education requirements vary depending on whether you intend to practice pediatric optometry or pediatric ophthalmology. Ophthalmologists looking to work with children are required to complete a specialty fellowship or residency program for at least one year. While this additional education is not required for optometrists, many still choose to participate in clinical training or a specialty fellowship in order to feel more confident and competent before working with children. Specialized training is highly recommended by industry professionals and preferred by most family optometry employers as well as many parents.
Year after year, children experience significant development in their vision and cognitive skills, which can be challenging for eye care professionals. If you invest in specialized knowledge and skills for testing, diagnosis, and treatment of pediatric vision conditions, you will better serve children of all ages and developmental stages. You will also be more prepared to take on complex cases.
Family Optometrist vs Family Optician
Yet another way to work with families in the eye care industry is to become a family optician. An optician helps equip people with eyeglasses and contact lenses by measuring, fitting, and adjusting frames. A family optician must be ready to help people of all ages pick out their eyeglasses and contact lenses, so they need to be familiar with options for children. Unlike optometrists and ophthalmologists, opticians aren’t required to have a formal degree, but they do need to complete a 1-to-2-year training program or in-house apprenticeship under an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Family Optometry Practice Support with PECAA
If you’re passionate about supporting families and working with patients of all ages, family optometry could be a great fit for you. To ensure your success in this rewarding yet challenging field, consider joining the leading optometry networking group in the United States, Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA). You’ll have access to countless networking and training opportunities, plus all the support you need to start a family optometry practice of your own! If you’re just starting out as an optometry student, be sure to take advantage of our free Student Membership Program.