Details on different eye care professionals
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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 degree.


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 vision care.

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 of eye care. They deal with diseases involving the eye, brain, areas surrounding the eye like the lachrymal system and the eyelids. These include treating eye diseases and injuries, eye examinations, prescribing medicines and doing eye surgery. Eye surgery includes laser surgery and replacement of lens. Ophthalmologists use both 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 and optometrist

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 diseases.

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.

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