Doctors of Optometry (ODs) are the primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures. They also identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.
ODs diagnose and treat, prescribe medications, perform certain surgical procedures, provide vision therapy and low vision rehabilitation, and assist patients with spectacle and contact lenses. They counsel patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options to meet their visual needs, and in cases involving surgery they provide both pre-operative and post-operative consultation and care. ODs also diagnose systemic conditions that have eye-related symptoms (i.e., diabetes or high blood pressure) and refer patients to other health practitioners, as needed.
Optometrists should not be confused with opthamologists or dispensing opticians. Opthamologists are physicians who perform eye surgery, in addition to diagnosing and treating eye conditions. Dispensing opticians fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, following prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. U.S. News & World Report listed optometry as one of the Best Jobs for Investigative People, because it's "a profession with a high cure rate, regular hours, good pay, and realistic potential for being successfully self-employed."
To learn more, watch a video profile of "Optometrists."
You can download, save and print a PDF of this career profile:
Optometrist 28 Dec 2010 [pdf, 87 KB]
For more information about pursuing a degree in optometry, see the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. This organization publishes a useful Optometry Career Guide.
Optometrists work in settings (usually their own offices) that are clean, well-lighted, and comfortable. Most full-time optometrists work about 40 hours a week. Many work Saturdays and evenings to suit the needs of patients. Emergency calls, once uncommon, have increased with the passage of therapeutic drug laws expanding optometrists' ability to prescribe medications.
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The OD degree requires completion of a 4-year program at an accredited optometry school, preceded by at least 3 years of undergraduate study at an accredited college or university. (Most optometry students hold a baccalaureate or higher degree.)
To be accepted into optometry school, you first must take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), which is given at Prometric Center Testing Centers. To register for the OAT, check out the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)'s website.
Once you have your OD in hand, you have to pass the licensure exam, which consists of both clinical and written portions. In most states, however, the written portion has been replaced with the exams which are given during the student's academic career by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO).
The timeline below is provided as a guide to help you complete the required or recommended prerequisites for entry into a school/college of optometry. Early in your undergraduate studies, try to decide which optometry school(s) you would like to attend, and follow those schools' specific prerequisites. Pre-optometry students may follow the course outline for pre-med or pre-dental.
For more information about pursuing a degree in optometry, see the Website for the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. This organization publishes a PDF of their Optometry Career Guide.
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Last updated: June 12, 2013
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