Eye Care Careers: Opticians, Optometrists, and Ophthalmologists

An optometrist looks into a girl's eye

The medical field is one of the most exciting, fastest growing fields in the United States. A career in the medical field can be very rewarding; people interested in this field have a variety of options from which to choose. In the specialty of vision care, a medical professional could choose to become and optician, an optometrist, or an ophthalmologist. These positions all have slightly different duties and require a varying level of education.


An optician may also be known as a dispensing optician, and with good reason. A large part of an optician’s job involves dispensing glasses and contact lenses. Most opticians work as support staff an optometrists or ophthalmologists practice. After an optometrist or an ophthalmologist has examined the patient, the optician helps them choose their frames. The optician will then measure the patients face to fit the glasses properly. The optician is also responsible for writing the work order for the ophthalmic lab, which includes the prescription and information on the size and fit of the glasses. When the glasses arrive, the optician makes any final adjustments to ensure proper fit for the patient. Some opticians also fit the patient for contact lenses, although they are required to have special training to perform this duty.

Most opticians obtain at least some post high school education. Although some employers may train their opticians through an apprenticeship program, most opticians have an associate’s degree in Opticianry from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Optometry Accreditation. There are also several certifications available for opticians: certification through the American Board of Optometry or the National Contact Lens Examiners. Also, twenty-two states require opticians to be licensed. The salary for an optician is similar to that of other medical professionals with the same education level: the medial hourly rate for an optician is $16.73 and the mean annual salary is $34,000.


An optometrist has more education and responsibilities than an optician. Many optometrists have their own practices, although some may work in an eye care chain store. An optometrist’s main duty is to examine the patient’s eyes. After the examination, they will then diagnose and treat any conditions they discover. This may involve writing a prescription for glasses, contact lenses, or medicine. Optometrists also perform tests to measure depth perception, ability to focus, and screen for diseases. Although they do not perform surgery, they can and do perform pre-operative and post-operative care. They may also refer patients to other medical professionals for problems they discover that are out of their scope of practice.

An optometrist pursues both post high school and postgraduate education. Usually an optometrist first obtains a Bachelors degree and goes on to a four year program to obtain a D.O, or Doctor of Optometry. Some optometrists also choose to get a PhD in their field, but it is not required to practice. However, optometrists are required to have a license to practice in every state. After their education and training are complete, most optometrists make a median salary of $96, 320.


An ophthalmologist, also sometimes called an Eye M.D, has many of the same duties as an optometrist with a slightly expanded scope of practice. They may have their own practice, work in an eye care chain, or work in a hospital. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor with special training in the field of ophthalmology. Therefore, they can perform exams, write prescriptions, but also perform surgeries. They may also treat some eye problems that are due to other conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some ophthalmologists are also involved in medical research.

Ophthalmologists normally obtain attend four years of college as well as four years of medical school. They earn a bachelors of science as well as an M.D. Their training also includes a year of internship directly after medical school and then three years of residency in ophthalmology. Some ophthalmologists also opt for do another two years of training in a specialty. Ophthalmologists must be licensed medical doctors and most also choose to become board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmologists. Median annual salary for these professionals is $186, 044.

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