Anybody providing any service related
to eye care is an eye care professional.
Many of us commonly and mistakenly
call all these professionals doctors.
There are mainly three types of eye
care professionals. They are opticians,
optometrists and ophthalmologists.
Of these only an ophthalmologist is
entitled to be called a doctor since
he, unlike the others, holds a medical
An optician is one who dispenses
and fits glasses and contacts, or
other optical aids as prescribed by
the optometrists and ophthalmologists,
for vision correction. To perform
these tasks he has to take the required
measurements of the patient’s
eyes and advise the patient on the
type of glasses and frames that would
suit the person best. They can also
reshape frames to get the required
fit. However, to fit contact lenses
the optician needs a special license.
In many states in the U.S. opticians
are given license after they obtain
an associate opticianry degree, which
is a one to two year course or after
undergoing a two-year apprenticeship.
Additional, they must pass a licensing
examination, for which some apply
to the American Board of Opticianry
for certification. Certification is
given after passing an examination
and has to be renewed every three
years. To dispense contact lenses,
in some states, opticians must clear
the National Contact Lens Examination.
The primary tasks of an optometrist
are to examine the eye for vision
or any other eye problems, prescribe
glasses and contact lenses. They deal
in all matters concerning the eye,
vision and the visual system. In some
states, they are allowed to prescribe
medicines for diagnosing vision problems
and for treating some eye diseases.
They also provide routine, primary
Optometrists are required to have
more extensive as well as higher degrees
to get a license. In the U.S., to
obtain a Doctor of Optometry degree
one must have a 3-year college degree
followed by 4 years in an accredited
optometry school. In order to obtain
a license one has to pass both a written
and a clinical state optometric board
exam in all states.
Optometrists are regulated at the
state level by the state board of
optometry and have to report to the
board, normally every 3 years for
renewal of license.
Ophthalmologists can be called full
fledged eye or medical doctors
who specialize in all aspects
care. They deal with diseases
involving the eye, brain, areas
the eye like the lachrymal system
and the eyelids. These include
treating eye diseases and injuries,
prescribing medicines and doing
eye surgery. Eye surgery includes
laser surgery and replacement
of lens. Ophthalmologists use
invasive and non-invasive techniques
to perform their tasks.
Ophthalmologists also require higher
degrees to obtain a license. To qualify
as an ophthalmologist one has to have
a 3-year college degree followed by
4 years in a medical school, one-year
internship and 3 years of hospital
based training called hospital residency.
Next they must pass a licensing examination.
Ophthalmologists are required to
have a license in all states and are
regulated by the state medical board.
Difference between ophthalmologist
It is important for consumers to
be aware of this difference, for their
own sake. Ophthalmologists are trained
doctors and surgeons. Ophthalmologists
treat eye diseases using medical and/or
surgical treatments, such as, cataract
with lens replacement, laser refractive
surgery on the cornea and some retinal
Optometrists are not medical doctors.
They are trained in optics and the
visual system. Ophthalmologists and
optometrists are both trained in refraction
but only the optometrists are trained
in prescribing glasses and contact
lenses. Optometrists may also receive
advanced training in complicated refractive
cases, as in irregular astigmatism.
Both ophthalmologists and optometrists
do screening for common eye problems.
Ophthalmologists may refer patients
with low vision to the optometrist
but continue to treat the disease.
Optometrists are also trained to deal
with non-refractive eye problems but
may refer the patient to the ophthalmologist
for advanced treatment.
In the U.S. while optometrists can
prescribe for certain diseases like
glaucoma, they cannot perform surgeries.
Undoubtedly the field of work of
ophthalmologist and optometrist do
overlap to some extent. In some countries
optometrists are lobbying to broaden
their field of work, to allow them
to take advantage of the training
they have received.
It is apparent that to provide a
good integrated eye care service,
these eye care professionals must
interact well and be on the best of
terms among themselves.