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Optometrist Training


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.

Doctor of Optometry programs combine classroom learning and clinical experience
Doctor of Optometry programs combine classroom learning and clinical experience.


Optometrists need a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. In 2012, there were 17 accredited Doctor of Optometry programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico. An additional 4 programs have received preliminary approval.

Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education, including coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. However, most students get a bachelor's degree before enrolling in a Doctor of Optometry program.

Applicants must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) to apply to O.D. programs. The OAT is a computerized exam that tests applicants on four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.

Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, and 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 an area of emphasis. Areas of emphasis for residency programs include family practice, low vision care, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on law. All states require optometrists to take continuing education 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 certified by the American Board of Optometry.

Important Qualities

Decision-making skills. Optometrists must be able to evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

Interpersonal skills. Because they spend much of their time examining patients, optometrists must be able to help their patients feel at ease.

Speaking skills. Optometrists must be able to clearly explain eyecare instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients' questions.

Last Modification: 01-26-2014