Definition & Overview

An optometrist is a medical professional who specializes in providing treatment for various eye conditions and assists in alleviating vision problems by prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. Although referred to as a Doctor in Optometry, Optometrists are not physicians, and they should not be confused with an ophthalmologist. Optometrists usually work in a stand-alone office, but a few work in a hospital or general health care environment.

Brief History of Optometry

Optometry has a rich history that begins around the mid 1200’s. It is believed that the field of optometry began when Roger Bacon, an English philosopher and Franciscan Friar, suggested in 1263 that lenses could help improve vision. In 1286, nearly two decades later, the first spectacles were invented in Italy.

While there were numerous historical events in Optometry from the invention of the eyeglasses to the present times, two more events that are notable were in 1898 when the American Association of Opticians was formed and in 1910 when the Columbia University offered the first course in Optometry paving the way for the medical field to become a recognized profession.

Duties & Responsibilities

Optometrists perform a wide range of medical services that involve the eyes. They conduct eye examinations to determine an eye-related illness, diagnose an eye injury, or provide treatment for other eye disorders. They also prescribe medications to treat eye diseases, act as consultants in eye care, and conduct pre and post operation care. In general, Optometrists do not perform eye surgeries, but in some countries and also some states in the US, optometrists may perform some types of laser surgeries. Ophthalmologists typically perform eye surgeries.

Difference between an Optometrist, an Ophthalmologist, and an Optician

If you have problems with your vision or incur an eye injury, you would need to see an eye doctor. However, the term “eye doctor” can mean several different professions namely, an Optometrist, Ophthalmologist, or an Optician. It can be a bit confusing when choosing the right one to see, so here are the differences between the three occupations.

An Optometrist or Doctor of Optometry (OD), is an “eye doctor” who specializes in diagnosing and treating vision related problems. They can also provide treatment for specific eye diseases. They mostly conduct eye exams to determine what type of corrective eyewear is best to treat a particular vision problem.

An Ophthalmologist is a Medical Doctor (MD) who specializes in the treatment of eye and vision-related problems. The big difference between an Ophthalmologist and an Optometrist is that an Ophthalmologist is not only trained to diagnose and provide treatment for eye diseases, but is also trained to conduct eye surgeries. Optometrists, in general, are not licensed to perform these surgeries.

Some people may also refer to Opticians as “eye doctors”, but in reality, they are not doctors. However, they play important roles when it comes to vision treatment. In fact, when visiting an Optometrist, you will also likely encounter an Optician.

Opticians will help you obtain the exact type of eyewear you’ll need that was prescribed by an Optometrist. They will interpret the prescription and make sure that you are fitted with the right lenses, whether with eyeglasses or contact lenses. Opticians also help people without any medical eye problems decide on cosmetic eyewear.

Educational Requirements of an Optometrist

The educational requirements to become an Optometrist differ from country to country, but most require the completion of a 4-year course in optometry. In the United States, candidates for the course have usually already obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Other than completing the necessary education courses in optometry, some countries also require a professional license to practice optometry. These countries usually have a regulatory board that issues the licenses and ensures that the optometrists conduct their services in accordance with the guidelines of the regulating body.

When to see an Optometrist

You should see an optometrist if you start experiencing symptoms of vision problems such as frequent headaches or nausea. The optometrist will have you undergo an eye exam to see the extent of your problems and decide on the correct form of treatment. The eye exams will reveal the exact medical condition of your eyes and the strength of the lenses you’ll need.

If the optometrist detects serious problems, you will either be prescribed medications to treat the disease or referred to an ophthalmologist for further treatment. This treatment can involve surgery. If so, there is a chance that the optometrist and ophthalmologist will be working together to provide you with the medical care you’ll need.


  • National Optometry.
  • National Optometric Association
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