Optometrists are health care professionals that deal with the physical structure of eyes, vision, visual information processing, and visual systems. With their education and certifications, they are able to diagnose diseases of the eyes and visual system, as well as treat eye ailments through prescribed medications or other means.
An important distinction is that they aren’t technically physicians like ophthalmologists. They require more extensive training than opticians but not as rigorous an education as ophthalmologists.
Optometrists spend the vast majority of their time conducting eye tests on patients to determine depth perception, the eye’s ability to focus near and far, and its ability to distinguish colors. If they find abnormalities in these areas, they can prescribe the appropriate treatment, including prescription drugs, corrective eyewear or lenses, or surgery.
In addition, eye health is indicative of general overall health, allowing optometrists to detect other diseases, which is a vital service for their patients.
Education and Experience Needed
Those interested in becoming optometrists must start by obtaining a four-year degree in a science-related field such as pre-med, biology, chemistry, zoology, botany, physiology, or microbiology. After obtaining this degree, optometrists must enter a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree program certified by the American Optometric Association (AOA) or the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO).
After graduating from a four-year Doctor of Optometry program, an optometrist must get certified to practice in all 50 states. To do this, optometrists must take an exam administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO).
This three-part exam includes sections on applied basic science, patient assessment and management, and clinical skills. In most states, a passing score of 75 is mandatory for all three portions of the test.
In addition to state licensure and certification, optometrists can obtain further certification in other areas. One of the more popular certifications is the American Board of Optometry board certification. This shows the optometrist’s dedication to his or her patients by reviewing what he or she learned in school and learning new technologies and developments that improve patient care. This adds another layer of trust between the optometrist and the patient.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, optometrists number about 40,200 nationwide and earn an annual median salary of $106,140, or $51.03 per hour. The bottom 10 percent of optometrists in the country makes $52,810 per year, or about $25.39 per hour, while the top 10 percent makes $192,050, or an hourly rate of $92.33. The projected job growth for optometrists is 17 percent over the next 10 years, making it well ahead of the national average for all other professions.
About half of optometrists work as employees at a physician’s office, 15 percent run their own practices, 15 percent work in retail or personal care stores, 3 percent work in outpatient care centers, and about 1 percent are government employees.
Average Duties and Tasks
An optometrist’s average day is fast-paced, as these professionals see up to 40 patients on a normal business day. With such a high volume of patients, optometrists must be both thorough and quick, with most exams taking 15 minutes or less. This also requires optometrists to have a chatty personality, and charismatic, talkative people will generally find the profession much more enjoyable than others. In addition, optometrists interact with other health care professionals, government organizations, and members of the community regularly.
Optometrists have many opportunities for career advancement depending on their goals and career aspirations. All states require continuing education courses for optometrists, where they can learn about new practices and techniques that help them become more effective and knowledgeable about their profession. This enables them to earn more money either at their private practice or with an optometry group.
Another way to advance in the optometry field is to enroll in a postgraduate residency program. This can provide you with more education and advanced clinical training in topics such as primary eye care, ocular diseases, family practice, pediatric optometry, and geriatric optometry. Most of these programs provide a stipend throughout their duration, while the Optometry Residency Match allows candidates to find the perfect school to match their goals.
Like other jobs, networking is a solid way to find career advancements. Attending local, regional, and national optometry conferences allow optometrists to link up with other industry professionals, while even small steps, such as becoming a member of an online optometry forum, can help optometrists meet others that might be able to further their careers.