If you're like most people, you just call it the 'eye doctor,' but there are multiple specialties around eye care: optometry, ophthalmology, and optician care. It's important to know which is which so that you are informed when you choose which type of specialist to go to in order to address your concerns.
An optometrist is an eye doctor who can examine, diagnose, and treat your eyes. This is basically the primary care physician for the eyes.
An optometry program takes four years to complete post-graduate and includes basic and advanced eye examination techniques, client case history and case studies, and additional courses in the natural sciences (including optics) and pharmacology as well as full-time clinical training as a resident.
Services optometrists provide include the following:
Optometrists are able to prescribe controlled medications for eye conditions. Depending on the state, some optometrists can also perform minor surgeries such as foreign body removal and laser eye surgery.
Many people confuse opticians and optometrists, although they are two completely different jobs. Optometrists have more responsibilities and are often the ones who hire opticians to work under them. Optometrists write eye prescriptions, which opticians are not authorized to do.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who can perform medical and surgical interventions for eye conditions. This kind of medical or osteopathic doctor specializes in eye and vision care.
Ophthalmologists must complete a full medical program before starting a residency program in ophthalmology, which takes an additional 4 to 7 years to complete. The residency program includes information on diagnosis and management of internal and external eye disease, training for eye disease subspecialties, and ophthalmic surgical training for all types of eye conditions.
Ophthalmology residency training also includes hands-on patient care, which involves performing surgical procedures under supervision and generally follows a one-year internship. There also exist sub-specialists, who have additional knowledge and training for specific and more complicated eye needs such as glaucoma, pediatrics, and so on. These subspecialty trainings enable an ophthalmologist to be better equipped with regards to certain conditions or certain groups of patients.
An ophthalmologist can do everything an optometrist can do, including prescription refills and an eye exam. However, an ophthalmologist can also perform eye surgery for various diseases and conditions, including cataracts and glaucoma. They also offer rehabilitation services after eye surgery. As ophthalmologists have over 12 years of training on in-depth surgical procedures for eye diseases, they focus on this as their primary scope of care.
An optician is a professional who can help fit eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other vision-correcting devices. They are more of a customer service professional than a medical eye care professional.
An optician does not need to hold a formal degree, but can become certified by completing a one to two year program such such as an associate's program in ophthalmic dispensing. An optician may also become certified through an in-house apprenticeship under an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Opticians fill and receive eye prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists; measure, fit and adjust eyeglass frames; and help customers choose frames, contacts and other vision accessories. They also perform general office duties as part of an optometry office team.
To learn more, visit The American Board of Opticians.
Optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians are all eye care professionals, but their education and experience, as well as what they are allowed to do, differ. In order to go to the correct professional, you want to know what it is you need to have done.
For routine eye care, visit an optometrist. For eye surgery, see an ophthalmologist. For frames and lenses, see an optician. Your sight depends on seeing the right doctor at the right time, so make sure you are informed and educated on what you need.