If you want to become an eye care professional, you have several great career options to choose from. Opticians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists all provide different types of eye care services, even if only ophthalmologists are technically medical doctors. Because each of these eye health care careers requires different skills, knowledge, eye care education, and experience, it’s crucial that you clearly understand the differences before making a decision on which to pursue.
Whether you’re considering different career paths or already dreaming of starting an optometry practice of your own, we’ll compare the roles of optician vs optometrist vs ophthalmologist and share resources to help you achieve your academic and professional goals.
An Overview of Optician vs Optometrist
An optician is an eye care professional who helps fit eyeglasses and contact lenses according to prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists. In contrast, an optometrist is an eye care professional who diagnoses and treats vision problems and manages diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes.
To become an optician, you’ll need at least a high school diploma, plus some form of on-the-job optician training. Many opticians choose to obtain an associate’s degree or a certification from an accredited institution, which makes them more competitive job applicants. In some states in the U.S., opticians are required to obtain a license before they can start working.
By comparison, becoming an optometrist requires significantly more time and investment, which makes sense considering the role has more advanced responsibilities. Optometrists must obtain a bachelor’s degree followed by a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree, which typically takes another 4 years to complete. They must also obtain a license to practice in a particular state. Though not required, some optometrists then go on to complete additional clinical training or a specialty fellowship before practicing.
Optician vs Optometrist: Work Environment & Job Duties
Opticians can work in a wide variety of environments, including optometry offices, physician offices, and stores that sell eyeglasses, contact lenses, visual aids, or any other optical goods. The role of optician centers around helping customers choose eyewear and contact lenses, which may include measuring, fitting, and adjusting eyeglass frames. Opticians 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.
The majority of optometrists work in optometry offices, although some work in doctor offices or optical goods stores. Many optometrists are self-employed and choose to open their own optometry practices. Optometrists provide primary vision care and deliver many important eye care services. Job duties include but are not limited to: performing eye exams and vision tests, detecting eye abnormalities, prescribing corrective lenses, and prescribing medications for eye diseases.
Optometrist vs Optician Compensation
Average compensation for optometrists vs opticians is substantially different, so it’s another important consideration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2021, the median annual wage for opticians was $37,570 while the median annual wage for optometrists was $124,300. Factors such as location, type of employer, level of experience, and whether you run or own the practice will affect your compensation in these roles.
What’s the Difference Between Optometrist and Ophthalmologist?
If you’re interested in optometry, you should also consider whether ophthalmology might be a good fit for you. Unlike optometrists, ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine, so they can perform medical and surgical eye care in addition to primary eye care. To qualify for this more advanced role, ophthalmologists must complete four years of medical school, a 1-year internship followed, a 3-year hospital-based residency in ophthalmology, and a state license. It’s a big commitment, but it pays off! Ophthalmologists bring in a much higher income, typically earning between $263,300 and $358,200 in the United States.
More Eye Care Careers
In addition to the three eye care careers highlighted above, you can also break into the eye care industry through a more supportive role. Additional eye care jobs include optometric assistant, ophthalmic assistant, optometric technician, ophthalmic technician, and optometry or ophthalmology office manager. Check out our overview of the best optometry jobs to learn more about these various opportunities.
Eye Care Industry Outlook
The eye care industry is considered one of the modern world’s most thriving industries, predicted to reach USD 237 Billion by 2030. The aging population in the United States and the increasing use of eyeglasses as a fashion accessory are two major factors contributing to this growth. Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 10 percent in the next ten years, which is faster than the average growth for all occupations. With this promising outlook in mind, there’s no time like the present to start your journey to become an optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist!
Join PECAA For Eye Care Professional Resources & Support
If you’re ready to launch your career in the eye care industry, PECAA is here to support you along the way! Whichever career path you choose to pursue, we have plenty of resources and training available to help you become the best eye care professional you can be.
For those interested in becoming an optician, check out our optician staff training resources. Our optician training courses describe the role of an optician and equip you with the selling and technical skills needed to be successful. Courses include Successfully Discussing and Dispensing Eyewear, Technical Aspects of Opticianry, Frame Choice: Style and Function, Optical Sales: Rules to Sell ‘BUY’, and Ophthalmic Lens Types, Materials, and Treatments. Once you complete these courses, we’ll share resources to help you prepare for the National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE), an exam that provides you with professional distinction and certification in the field of opticianry.
For optometry students, we offer a free PECAA Student Membership Program for students currently enrolled in optometry schools. You’ll have access to exclusive PECAA programs and training, gain valuable insight into industry trends, and have opportunities to network and connect with practicing ODs and other industry professionals. It’s a great way to get a jumpstart on your future as an eye care professional!