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 as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye (American Optometric Association [AOA]).
New technologies have helped the profession 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.
- Examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases, injuries and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures
- Counsel patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options to meet their visual needs
- Identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye, like diabetes or high blood pressure
- Prescribe medications
- Perform certain surgical procedures
- Provide vision therapy and low vision rehabilitation
- Assist patients with eyeglasses and contact lenses
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.
The average workweek of an optometrist is under 40 hours, but in many instances, optometrists decide if they want to work more or less than that.
Salary Range and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for optometrists will grow by 4% through 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Optometry offers an average net income of $143,520 according to data from the American Optometric Association.
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 may have to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). Some schools and colleges of optometry may accept other standardized exams such as the GRE, MCAT, DAT, or PCAT. Check with the schools/colleges directly for their exam requirements. 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.
- Take Biology/Zoology 1 and 2 and General (Inorganic) Chemistry 1 and 2 with concurrent labs. Some optometry schools also require or recommend a minimum of one course in anatomy or physiology.
- Schedule a visit with a pre-health advisor. 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 and/or pre-optometry (if available) clubs 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.
- Take Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 and Physics 1 and 2, all with labs, and a psychology course. Some optometry schools require/recommend two psychology courses. A course in microbiology may be recommended depending on your course load and school(s) of interest.
- Take Calculus 1 and 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.
- Shadow an optometrist. We suggest that you 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.
- 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.
- Start making decisions about the type of optometry school you want to attend: public vs. private, size of the school and regions of the country. Contact the colleges/schools of optometry for admissions information and revisit their websites.
- 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 make adjustments as needed.
- Apply to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), if applicable. Check with the schools/colleges of optometry for their exam requirements as they may accept the GRE, MCAT, DAT, or PCAT in lieu of the OAT.
- Visit the colleges/schools of optometry and talk with the admission officers.
- Prepare to re-take the OAT or another standardized exam, if necessary.
- Continue with your volunteer work and/or shadowing an optometrist.
- Take advanced science courses.
- Apply to optometry schools/colleges 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.
Learn More About a Career as an Optometrist
- American Optometric Association
- Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry
- National Board of Examiners in Optometry