People seeking eye care can be baffled by the options available to them—all of which start, in fact, with the prefix “op-.” A search for local eye doctors will turn up optometrists and ophthalmologists, not to mention opticians, who are not doctors at all. Patients want to know the differences between these eye doctors in order to get the most affordable and appropriate care available. So what’s the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist? Let’s break down some of the similarities and differences.
Optometrists’ practices are common across America. When people talk about going to “the eye doctor,” what they really mean in most cases is their optometrist. Optometrists are primarily concerned with examining the eye and making diagnoses and treatment when necessary. They also provide the prescriptions for corrective eyeglasses.
Must like dentists, optometrists are specialists who have attended school for their specific area of expertise. They must complete four years of undergraduate education, preferably with a premed concentration, followed by four years of optometry school. There are 23 of these schools throughout the United States, along with two in Canada (one English, one French); most are schools within larger universities.
Ophthalmologists and optometrists are also both doctors of the eye. However, while optometrists hold a Doctor of Optometry degree, or OD, ophthalmologists complete even more education. All ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize beyond their MD. Your ophthalmologist will have completed not only undergraduate and medical school courses of study but also a one-year internship followed by three to four years in residency. Having completed this more rigorous course of study, ophthalmologists—unlike optometrists—are licensed to perform surgical procedures on the eye. This includes treating vision with LASIK surgery. An ophthalmologist is also qualified to remove lenses that have grown cloudy with cataracts and replace them with artificial lenses, restoring clear vision in patients.
Tools of the Trades
One area that elides the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists is that both professionals can screen their patients for glaucoma. Automated Ophthalmics can supply optometrists and ophthalmologists alike with Tono-Pen tip covers, which keep handheld tonometers sanitary.