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Explore Optometry

What does an optometrist do?

A Doctor of Optometry (OD) is an independent, primary health care provider who examines the visual system, the eye and associated structures, as well as diagnoses, treats and manages related diseases and disorders.

Optometry involves much more than prescribing and fitting glasses and contact lenses. ODs are trained to evaluate a patient’s visual condition and to determine the best treatment for that condition. ODs are usually considered to be the primary care providers for patients seeking eye and vision care.

  • Doctors of Optometry prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses and perform certain surgical procedures.
  • Optometrists counsel their patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options that meet their visual needs related to their occupations, avocations, and lifestyle.
  • An optometrist has completed pre-professional undergraduate education in a college or university and four years of professional education at a college of optometry, leading to the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Some optometrists complete an optional residency in a specific area of practice.
  • Optometrists are eye health care professionals state-licensed to diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the eye and visual system.

What is the outlook for the optometric profession?

According to the United States Department of Labor, employment of optometrists is expected to grow by 24 percent between 2012 and 2020, much faster than the average of most occupations. It is also anticipated that the aging population will increase demand for optometrists over the coming years and decades.

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, more Americans have gained access to health insurance. In addition, the ACA requires that most health care plans now include a pediatric vision care benefit. Millions of children have gained health insurance coverage and will have access to an annual, comprehensive eye exam and treatment from an optometrist.

Do optometrists have specialties?

There are multiple career options for ODs: private practices, multidisciplinary medical practices, hospitals, teaching institutions, research positions, community health centers and the ophthalmic industry. Optometrists can also build successful careers in the military, public health or in government service.

Most optometrists practice “full-scope,” primary care optometry and treat and manage all forms of visual and ocular conditions. However, a practitioner may choose to concentrate his/her practice on treating a selected population or visual condition.

Many optometrists also focus on specific sub-specialties, such as pediatrics, vision therapy, ocular disease, head trauma and other areas.

What if I want to do research or teach?

Students interested in gaining an even greater understating of the visual system in order to pursue a career in research or academia will likely need to obtain an MS and/or PhD degree, in conjunction or independently of an OD degree.

(Some of the information above was adapted from the American Optometric Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry)