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Close up of female patient being examined with a phoropter.
Career Development | 4/18/2024

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist: The Difference Between Eye Doctors

Close up of female patient being examined with a phoropter.

Enhance your knowledge and understanding of vision care by learning the key differences between optometry and ophthalmology.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists: Two types of eye doctor but definitely not the same role. So what's the difference and, if you're interested in a career in eye care, how do you enter either of these essential professions? We'll answer those questions and more so you can focus on which area of ocular study is best for you.

What's the Difference Between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?

Optometrists and ophthalmologists share a commitment to delivering high-quality eye care to patients, but they do so in different ways.

Optometrists provide primary eye care, such as a routine eye exam, to patients. These professionals are also trained to prescribe corrective lenses and let patients know whether they have more serious eye disorders. Essentially, people who have common eye care challenges, such as the need for eyeglasses, will only ever see an optometrist. Patients with more severe eye problems or complex eye conditions will require care beyond an optometrist's abilities. They require an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who provide treatment for eye disease diagnoses, including eye surgery when necessary. They have different specialties, including general ophthalmology, pediatrics, oculoplastics, and particular parts of the eye. 

Let's break down these two eye health professions' responsibilities even further.

Responsibilities of an Optometrist 

  • Conducting primary vision care for a patient, such as an eye examination.
  • Managing and diagnosing eye conditions and abnormalities.
  • Prescribing medications to treat an eye condition.
  • Providing vision therapy for binocular vision disorders.
  • Treating ocular emergencies like red eye, trauma, increased floaters, and flashes.
  • Evaluating and monitoring secondary eye conditions with systemic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and thyroid disease. 
  • Delivering pre- and post-operative care.
  • Ordering corrective lenses like single-vision glasses, readers, contact lenses, and progressives.
  • Performing contact lens exams and conducting contact lens fittings.
  • Completing in-office procedures like epilating lashes, placing punctal plugs, and draining styles. 

Responsibilities of an Ophthalmologist 

  • Diagnosing and treating a form of eye disease.
  • Performing eye surgery and vision tests.
  • Addressing traumatic eye injuries.
  • Completing advanced tests on patients.
  • Instructing interns and residents in ophthalmologist diagnoses and techniques.
  • Developing and implementing plans and procedures for eye-specific services. 

What Training Is Necessary To Become an Optometrist?

To be licensed to practice optometry, you must finish a preprofessional undergraduate education in a higher-education setting where you’ll complete vital prerequisite courses beneficial to ocular knowledge and comprehension. You’ll then go through an additional four years of professional education at a college of optometry to earn a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. To become an eye care provider, you’ll also generally be expected to complete one year of residency training between your four years of optometry school and your OD program. 

What Training Is Necessary To Become an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist, on the other hand, requires additional years of schooling in a medical program rather than obtaining an optometry doctorate. 

To become an ophthalmologist, you must complete a preprofessional undergraduate education, including pre-medical school prerequisite courses. You must then attend four years of medical school with a rotation in ophthalmology. Upon graduating from medical school, you must complete a residency program for three to four years in a given area of ophthalmology. Specialties may include additional years of study, depending on the college or location.

At Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, we have several optometry and pre-med programs you can choose from. While studying optometry, you'll not only have the opportunity to learn under experienced professors, but you'll receive hands-on experience through multiple on-campus methods. Our college has an Eye and Vision Center that allows you to inspect and treat patients as you learn alongside dedicated faculty members and eye care professionals.

Career Benefits of Studying Optometry

Let's break down the many ways studying optometry can benefit you.

Job Security

Eye care professionals are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics expects job opportunities to increase by 9% through 2032. Older professionals retiring in this space are projected to lead an average of 1,700 openings for optometrists each year during this period.

Flexible Work-Life Balance

While other medical jobs may be extremely demanding, optometrists have a healthy and flexible schedule that lets them spend time with their family and friends, relax throughout the weekend, and work normal hours. Generally, full-time work is done during the work week, leading to very few emergency calls that may require an eye specialist to work after hours. 

Furthermore, as optometrists become more experienced in the field, they gain more freedom in setting their hours. Some even own a practice, which provides greater control over their schedules 

The Ability to Help Others

You’re most likely considering a career in eye care because you want to help others take care of themselves and their families. Becoming an optometrist allows you to assist patients with a wide range of vision problems, helping them maintain healthy eyes.

Becoming a medical doctor in any capacity enables you to be a big part of people’s lives, showing them paths to restoration and betterment. But optometry is unique because it specifically gives people the opportunity to better view the people and places that are most important to them—a special gift you’ll be able to provide patients.

Become the Next Optometrist 

Has a career as an eye doctor caught your eye? If so, the path to becoming an optometrist is set and ready for you to begin. MCPHS was the first institution founded in Boston. With 200 years of expertise and experience under our belts, we’re excited to welcome new students into our optometry or pre-med programs. 

Apply to the Optometry program or PreMed Pathway to start your journey towards making a healthier, more equitable world.