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Optometrist Work Description


Optometry is a health care profession concerned with the health of the eyes and related structures, as well as vision, visual systems, and vision information processing in humans. Optometrists (also known as ophthalmic opticians outside the United States and Canada) are trained to prescribe and fit lenses to improve vision, and to diagnose and treat various eye diseases. In the United States, Canada and Ghana optometrists are Doctors of Optometry and are held to the same legal standards as any physician. This is not the case, however, in the United Kingdom and other countries, where optometrists do not undertake medical training equivalent to that of physicians and are therefore not considered so. In all U.S. states optometrists are licensed to diagnose and treat diseases of the eye through topical diagnostic and therapeutic drugs, and oral drugs in 48/50 states. Doctors of Optometry are also able to perform certain types of laser surgery in some states. In other countries patients are referred to other healthcare professionals, such as ophthalmologists, neurologists and general medical practitioners for further treatment or investigation.

Doctors of Optometry in the United States are currently regulated by state boards that determine their scope of practice, which may vary from state to state. Within the healthcare system, optometrists function as primary eye care providers who are especially experienced in fitting contact lenses and glasses prescriptions.

Optometrists can also treat their patients that have eye diseases with:

  • Oral medications (such as antivirals, antibiotics, oral steroids and pain medications)
  • Topical medications such as prescription eye drops to treat glaucoma or red eye for example.
  • Injectable medications.

Optometrists may also be trained in some surgical techniques, including those for foreign body removal, corneal injury, eyelid & lacrimal disease, removal of "lumps and bumps" around the eyes and others. In Oklahoma, the state optometry board also allows state-certified optometrists to perform surgeries limited to the anterior segment of the eye. In Kentucky, recent legislation permits Optometrists to perform a multitude of laser procedures. In many cases optometrists and ophthalmologists work together in the treatment and management of patients with various eye conditions. Opticians in America generally dispense corrective eye wear, and in some cases also construct the corrective eye wear. The scope of practice in optometry varies as it is regulated by each state.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) and the American Optometric Society (AOS) represent optometrists nationally in the USA. Prior to admittance into optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor’s degree. Required undergraduate coursework for pre-optometry students covers a variety of health, science and mathematics courses. These courses include: four semesters of chemistry to include organic and biochemistry, two semesters of physics and biology, as well as one semester of calculus, statistics, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and psychology. Additional requirements are imposed by specific institutions. Once completing these courses, admission to an optometry doctorate program requires that candidates score well on the Optometry Admission Test (O.A.T.), Optometry Admission Tests. There are currently 20 optometry schools in the United States, and admission into these schools is highly competitive.

Optometrists are required to complete a four-year postgraduate degree program to earn their Doctor of Optometry (O.D. - Oculus Doctor) titles. The four-year program includes classroom and clinical training in geometric, physical, physiological and ophthalmic optics, ocular anatomy, ocular disease, ocular pharmacology, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the vision system, binocular vision, color, form, space, movement and vision perception, design and modification of the visual environment, and vision performance and vision screening. In addition, an optometric education also includes a thorough study of human anatomy, systemic diseases, general pharmacology, general pathology, microbiology, sensory and perceptual psychology, biochemistry, statistics and epidemiology. There are three new colleges of optometry (Midwestern University Arizona College of Optometry, University of the Incarnate Word School of Optometry, Western University of Health Sciences College of Optometry) that have received the pre-accreditation status of preliminary approval from the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE). Programs with "Preliminary Approval" have shown that they are developing within the ACOE's standards. The programs have approval to begin recruiting and admitting students, and to begin offering the program.

Upon completion of an accredited program in optometry, graduates hold the Doctor of Optometry degree. Optometrists must then pass a national examination administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). The three-part exam includes basic science, clinical science and patient care. (The structure and format of the NBEO exams are subject to change beginning in 2008.) Some optometrists go on to complete one- to two-year residencies with training in a specific sub-specialty such as pediatric eyecare, geriatric eyecare, specialty contact lens, ocular disease or neuro-optometry. All optometrists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements to stay current regarding the latest standards of care.

Optometrists - SUMMARY

Quick Facts: Optometrists
2012 Median Pay $97,820 per year
$47.03 per hour
Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 33,100
Job Outlook, 2012-22 24% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 8,100
Optometrists examine the eye and discuss treatment options with patients based on their findings
Optometrists examine the eye and discuss treatment options with patients based on their findings.

What Optometrists 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.

Work Environment

Most optometrists work in stand-alone offices of optometry. A small number of optometrists work in doctors' offices, retail stores, outpatient clinics, and hospitals. Most work full time, and 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. Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor's degree before entering an O.D. program.


The median annual wage for optometrists was $97,820 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will require more optometrists.

Last Modification: 01-26-2014