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Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist vs. Optician

Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist vs. Optician

Author: Dr. William Tullo
July 15, 2014

What’s the difference between ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians? Their jobs may overlap, and they may collaborate, but overall there are key traits that distinguish the three experts.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a trained medical doctor who has earned an MD (Medical Doctor) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree and who is licensed to surgically invade the eye. He or she has typically spent four years in undergraduate studies, four years in medical school and three additional years studying surgery and diseases of the eye.

An ophthalmologist will usually practice in a private office or a hospital setting. While an ophthalmologist can prescribe glasses and contact lenses, his primary focus is treating and managing ocular diseases. The task of writing glasses and contact lens prescriptions are usually given to assistants or technicians in the office.

So what is an optometrist?

An optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry (OD) who has been trained to treat and manage eye diseases, prescribe glasses and contact lenses and remove foreign bodies from the eye. An optometrist has completed four years of undergraduate education and another four years of education from a college of optometry. The four years of study in an optometry school provide courses specifically in enabling people to see better through the use of glasses lenses and contact lenses. There is also a large portion of study devoted to the detection, treatment and management of eye diseases. An optometrist often collaborates with an ophthalmologist to provide the pre- and post-op care to an eye-surgery patient, though an optometrist will not perform the actual surgery. (However, in some states including Oklahoma and Kentucky, an optometrist has laser privileges to shape the cornea.)

Optometrist vs. ophthalmologist?

The overlap of services provided by an ophthalmologist and an optometrist are admittedly confusing. In short, an optometrist makes people see better through the use of glasses and contact lenses. An opthalmologist could do this, but he also treats and manages ocular diseases (e.g., glaucoma, contact-lens-related infections) and removes foreign bodies that can embed in the eye. Another way of saying it is that an ophthalmologist is primarily focused on surgical remedies to treat a diseased eye. However, an ophthalmologist also has the capacity to prescribe glasses and contact lenses to help patients’ achieve better vision.

What is an optician?

Generally, an optician selects, fits and adjusts eyeglasses for patients. You might find an optician in a mall optical center or in your optometrist’s or ophthalmologist’s private practice. The term “optician” can be used loosely, since most states don’t govern this professional description as they do an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Who plays a role in laser eye surgery?

An optometrist and ophthalmologist can both play a role in your laser eye surgery. The ophthalmologist will perform the LASIK or PRK procedure with the exception of Oklahoma and Kentucky where an OD can perform certain procedures. The optometrist can check your prescription and eye health before your procedure to help provide the best possible outcome. Visits with your optometrist or ophthalmologist will last for up to a year after your procedure to ensure your eyes reach their peak vision. An annual eye exam is recommended each year thereafter to ensure overall eye health. To learn more about how to select your laser eye surgery ophthalmologist, visit this article.


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