Optometry Vs Ophthalmologist

With the names of Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, and Optician, it can be difficult to know which person to visit and who is the best person to manage your eye problems. The basic difference is an Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (degree of MD or DO) who goes to medical school, and an optometrist practices in the field of optometry, but does not go to medical school and does not complete a surgical residency. An optician is not an eye doctor. In many offices, ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians will work together.

What Is An Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a fully licensed medical doctor (MD or DO) who has completed extensive education and comprehensive training to treat all eye conditions. They are trained surgeons and are licensed to prescribe medications in the treatment of eye diseases.  An Ophthalmologist is different from an optometrist given their increased training and a broader scope of practice. Ophthalmologists are able to perform comprehensive eye exams, provide a variety of vision tests, provide a diagnosis, and treat all eye conditions with medication or perform surgery if needed. They are also able to prescribe glasses, and contacts to treat vision problems. Ophthalmologists are the eye professionals who are specially trained to manage all eye conditions, simple or complex, that other eye care professionals cannot treat. 

Education And Training Of An Ophthalmologist

To become an ophthalmologist, one must receive an undergraduate degree before matriculating to medical school. After completing medical school for 4 years and earning an MD or DO degree, these doctors must undergo further specialty training and apply for a competitive spot in Ophthalmology residency. Ophthalmologists then complete ophthalmology residency for 4 years, during which they practice surgery and prescribe medications for all types of eye diseases. After completing residency, an ophthalmologist can then decide to complete further subspecialty training by applying and competing for a position in a fellowship program for 1 or 2 years. Some of the most common subspecialty areas in Ophthalmology are Glaucoma, Cornea, Uveitis and Immunology, Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Retina, Neuro-ophthalmology, Pediatric ophthalmology and Strabismus, Pathology, and Ocular Oncology. A fellowship-trained Ophthalmologist will have completed 9 or 10 years of education after college. 

Optometry OD Degree

Optometrists practice optometry and have a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. This is different from an MD or a DO, which are both degrees that an ophthalmologist can have, and they mean that the ophthalmologist has both medical and surgical training in ophthalmology. An optometrist is not a medical doctor. They do not go to medical school and do not complete surgical residency training as an Ophthalmologist does. An optometrist is able to do comprehensive eye exams, vision tests, and can prescribe glasses and contacts. Optometrists are able to diagnose certain eye conditions and prescribe medications for the basic treatment of some eye conditions like dry eye, glaucoma, and iritis. They are not surgically trained to do lasers or other complex procedures or surgery on the eye. An optometrist will usually refer to an ophthalmologist for lasers, procedures, and surgery. Optometrists may also refer to ophthalmologists in the case of more complex disease such as glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic eye disease.


To become an optometrist, one must complete either 2-4 years of undergraduate education before attending optometry school. By attending and completing optometry school for 4 years, an individual will obtain a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Optometrists can then choose to undergo optional specialty training for one year. The categories of optometric specialty training are primary care optometry, pediatric optometry, cornea and contact lenses, vision rehabilitation, and ocular disease. An optometrist will have completed 4 or 5 years of education after college. 

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What Is An Optician?

An optician is not an eye doctor. An optician is a technician who provides care to patients by helping to fit patients with glasses or contacts. They do not provide comprehensive eye exams, diagnose, or treat any medical conditions. Opticians will take measurements of the patient’s pupillary distance, vertex size, eye size, and temple length and use the glasses or contacts prescription written by Optometrists or Ophthalmologists to find the correct fit of glasses or contacts for a patient.

Optician School And Training

When starting training to become an optician, most applicants have a high school degree or GED; however, this is usually not a requirement across the nation. Individuals may then obtain qualifications via three routes. The first route is by earning an optician certificate through a post-secondary school program which usually lasts one year. The second route is by attending a two year program in a college accredited by the commision on Opticianry Accreditation. This will award the individual an Associate’s Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing. The third route is by obtaining an apprenticeship under the supervision of an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist. Although there are a certain number of hours required for satisfactory completion of an apprenticeship, the requirements vary across the nation. 

Optometry Vs Ophthalmologist: Take Home Points

The eyes are the organs responsible for vision and arguably the most important sense, sight. Unfortunately, there is no replacement for the eye. Therefore, staying up to date with eye health and visiting an eye doctor at regular intervals is important. Each eye care professional has a different level of training, expertise, and a different scope of practice (what each person can and can not do) which gives them the ability and knowledge to treat a specific eye problem. An ophthalmologist is a general eye doctor and an eye surgeon who can do lasers, eye surgery, as well as basic eye exams for glasses and contacts. An optometrist is an eye care professional who usually does general eye exams but does not have surgical training or training to perform lasers. Depending on your needs, you can make the decision to see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. An optician is not a doctor and is a professional that can help you get fitted for the right pair of glasses. An optician can not perform an eye exam. 

  1. What is an Ophthalmologist?. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/what-is-ophthalmologist
  2. Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician – American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Aapos.org. https://aapos.org/glossary/difference-between-an-ophthalmologist-optometrist-and-optician.
  3. What’s a doctor of optometry?. Aoa.org. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/whats-a-doctor-of-optometry?sso=y
  4. What is an Optometrist? American Board of Optometry | ABO. American Board of Optometry | ABO – Non-Profit Organization. https://americanboardofoptometry.org/general-public/what-is-an-optometrist/.
  5. Opticianedu.org. https://www.opticianedu.org/what-is-an-optician/.

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