• Optometry

    Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.

    Optometrists typically do the following:

    • Perform vision tests and analyze results
    • Diagnose sight problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, and eye diseases, such as glaucoma
    • Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids, and if state law permits, medications
    • Perform minor surgical procedures to correct or treat visual or eye health issues
    • Provide treatments such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation
    • Provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing eye surgery—for example, examining a patient’s eyes the day after surgery
    • Evaluate patients for the presence of other diseases and conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and refer patients to other healthcare providers as needed
    • Promote eye and general health by counseling patients

    Some optometrists spend much of their time providing specialized care, particularly if they are working in a group practice with other optometrists or physicians. For example, some optometrists mostly treat patients with only partial sight, a condition known as low vision. Others may focus on treating infants and children.

    Optometrists promote eye health and counsel patients on how general health can affect eyesight. For example, they may counsel patients on how smoking cessation or weight loss can reduce vision problems.

    Many optometrists own their practice and those who do may spend more time on general business activities, such as hiring employees, ordering supplies, and marketing their business.

    Optometrists also may work as postsecondary teachers, do research in optometry colleges, or work as consultants in the eye care industry.

    Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and treat eye diseases in addition to performing eye exams and prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. For more information on ophthalmologists, see the physicians and surgeons profile. Dispensing opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, fill contact lens prescriptions that an optometrist or ophthalmologist has written.

    Prerequisite Coursework

    Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. O.D. programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering such a program.

    It is essential that the applicant obtains information directly from the specific school or college of optometry where he or she plans to apply. The science courses that the applicant takes should be those designed for pre-professional students and must include laboratory experience. Brief survey courses in the sciences will not be sufficient preparation for optometry school.

    Here is a general list of common requirements:

    2 semesters of biology with lab
    1 semester of calculus
    1 semester of statistics
    2 semesters of general chemistry with lab
    2 semesters of organic chemistry with lab
    2 semesters of English composition or literature
    2 semesters of physics with lab
    1 semester of psychology
    Advanced courses in biochemistry, anatomy & physiology, and microbiology are very highly recommended
    Relevant experiences: shadowing in a health care setting is typically required and it is advised that students determine the hours of experience required for the schools that they are interested in
    Other: OAT (Optometry Admissions Test), letters of recommendation, and personal interviews are typically required

    Relevant Tests

    Websites with test-taking and test-prep information:

    Test-taking timeline:

    Degree Programs

    O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.

    After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize. Areas of specialization for residency programs include family practice, low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.

    All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. degree from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam.

    Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on laws relating to optometry. All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.

    Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become certified by the American Board of Optometry.

    Application Resources