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Optometrist

Overview

Doctors of Optometry (ODs) are the independent 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 eyeglasses and contact lenses. They counsel patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options to meet their visual needs. 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 ophthalmologists or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists 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 describing what optometrists do. The profile is listed under Health Sciences.

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For more information about pursuing a degree in optometry, see the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry website, which publishes a useful Optometry Career Guide (PDF). 

Working Conditions

Optometrists work in settings (usually their own offices) that are clean, well-lit 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.

Academic Requirements

The OD degree requires completion of a four-year program at an accredited optometry school, preceded by at least three 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. You can register for the OAT through the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO).

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 given during the student's academic career by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO).

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Preparation Timeline

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 Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, which publishes a useful Optometry Career Guide. 

FRESHMAN YEAR

  • Take Biology/Zoology 1 & 2 and General (Inorganic) Chemistry 1 & 2 with concurrent labs. Some optometry schools require or recommend at minimum a course in anatomy or physiology.
  • Schedule a visit with a pre-health advisor. If it is not required, arrange to have an advisor assigned to you to help plan when to take the required courses/prerequisites as outlined in the admission requirements of the school(s) you are interested in attending.
  • Join pre-health, science, pre-optometry (if available) and other related clubs or groups so that you can meet other students interested in becoming optometrists. Junior and senior pre-health/optometry students can be helpful in providing a wealth of information on applying to optometry schools as well as how to prepare for the Optometry Admission Test  (OAT).
  • Visit the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) website to get an overview of optometry as a career, a list of optometry schools/colleges and list of prerequisite courses.

SOPHOMORE YEAR

  • Take Organic Chemistry 1 & 2 and Physics 1 & 2, all with labs, and a course in psychology. Some optometry schools require/recommend two courses of psychology. A course in microbiology maybe recommended depending on your course load and school(s) of interest.
  • Take Calculus 1 & 2.
  • Think about your major. Remember you do not have to be a science major, but you will be required to fulfill the science prerequisites for admission. Plan your schedule carefully so your course load is not too heavy.
  • Continue to schedule regular meetings with your pre-health advisor to review your program.

SOPHOMORE YEAR – SUMMER

  • Shadow an optometrist. We suggest that students shadow several different optometrists in different practice settings (e.g. solo private practice, partnership or group, military, academic). Optometry schools strongly encourage or require that students shadow/be acquainted with an optometrist as a prerequisite for admission so they are familiar with the profession.
  • Volunteer and participate in other activities to develop a well-rounded base of interest.

JUNIOR YEAR

  • Take biochemistry and a statistics course.
  • If you have not completed a course in microbiology do so now, based on your school(s) of interest.
  • Contact the colleges/schools of optometry for their admission catalogs and revisit their websites.
    • Register to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), which is given at Prometric Testing Centers.
    • Start making decisions about the type of optometry school you want to attend: public vs. private, size of the school, specialty programs and regions of the country.
    • Meet with your pre-health advisor to discuss if you will have fulfilled all admission requirements to the colleges/schools of optometry by end of your senior year. Pay particular attention to the requirements of the schools you are interested in as the requirements may vary from school to school and you would need to make the adjustment.
    • Visit the colleges/schools of optometry and talk with the admission officers.

JUNIOR YEAR – SUMMER

  • Prepare to re-take the OAT, if necessary.
  • Continue with your volunteer work and/or shadowing an optometrist.

SENIOR YEAR

  • Take advanced science courses.
  • Register to take or re-take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).
  • Apply to Optometry School/College via OptomCAS, optometry's centralized application service.
    • Brush up on your interviewing skills. Your school’s career placement center  can provide valuable guidance and assistance for the interviewing process.

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