Doctors of Optometry (ODs), commonly known as optometrists, are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye. U.S. News & World Report listed optometry as a rewarding job, because it's "a profession with a high cure rate, regular hours, good pay and realistic potential for being successfully self-employed." The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for optometrists will grow by 27% between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.
New technologies have helped the profession of optometry to expand both the scope and the efficiency of practice. Optometrists and their patients are benefiting from the many advances in eye care and medical technology.
For example, the type of contact lenses and lens treatments have expanded and improved in recent years. Additionally, new procedures like the use of lasers to correct vision and diseases, such as glaucoma, have provided better options for patients who need them. Optometrists are often the health care providers who consult with patients about new technologies and treatments like these.
An optometrist’s day is filled with a challenging and varied array of care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses, to treating diseases such as glaucoma and retinopathy, to performing minor surgical procedures and providing pre- and post-operative care to patients undergoing ophthalmologic surgery.
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.
Optometrists practice in many different kinds of situations and with different types of employers, including hospitals, retail optical settings and the military. Many optometrists set up a private or group practice with one or more other optometrists or with ophthalmologists. Some optometrists decide to go into research at an academic institution or with a corporation. After gaining experience, optometrists may also decide to become consultants to the ophthalmic industry, education, school and/or professional sports and government.
Optometrists most often work in an office setting. While many work 40 hours a week, they may work more hours or need to work evenings and weekends, depending on where they work and patient need.
Optometry offers an average net income of $122,667 across the profession.
About a Career as an Optometrist
About Health Care Careers
Note: The Association of Schools & Colleges of Optometry reviewed this profile.
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To become Doctor of Optometry (OD), you must first complete at least three years of undergraduate study at an accredited college or university. Most optometry students hold a baccalaureate or higher degree. While you are in college or at some point before you plan to attend an OD program, you have to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). Then you must apply to and be accepted at an accredited optometry school.
While OD programs vary, they share some common features. In your first and second years you will take courses in the basic health sciences (anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, pharmacology and public health), optics and vision science. You will also begin gaining clinical experience in a simulation lab with fellow classmates serving as patients. You also get experience with actual patients, taking case histories, performing examinations, learning diagnostic techniques and discussing treatment services.
In the third year, you spend part of your time in the classroom and part of your time in the clinic examining patients.
Fourth-year students continue clinical training, which may include clinical externship rotations. The lengths of the external rotations vary from eight to 16 weeks.
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).
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 same course outline as pre-med or pre-dental students do.
For more information about pursuing a degree in optometry, see the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry's website, which publishes a useful Optometry Career Guide.
SOPHOMORE YEAR – SUMMER
JUNIOR YEAR – SUMMER
Prepare to re-take the OAT, if necessary.
Continue with your volunteer work and/or shadowing an optometrist.
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Last updated: November 15, 2016
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