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Know Who is Taking Care of Your Eyes

The distinction between an Ophthalmologist, an Optometrist, and an Optician is a source of confusion for many people.  While all are concerned with eye care, there are extreme differences between them.  Understanding of these differences, including education, training, and their scope of patient care is critical when choosing an eye care provider for yourself or your family.


What is an Ophthalmologist?

An Ophthalmologist -- Eye M.D. -- is a doctor of medicine or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are specially trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from performing complex and delicate eye surgery, to diagnosing and treating eye diseases and conditions, to prescribing glasses and contact lenses. Many Ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research into the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision problems.

An Ophthalmologist receives a minimum of 12 years of education, including 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 1 or more years of general clinical training or internship, and 3 or more years in a hospital-based ophthalmic residency program, often followed by 1 or more years of subspecialty fellowship.  They must then pass a medical licensing examination.

As medical doctors, Ophthalmologists are regulated by state medical boards.


What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist receives a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and is licensed to practice optometry, not medicine. The practice of optometry traditionally involves examining the eye for the purpose of prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, screening vision to detect certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases. 

An optometrist may have as little as 6 years of post-high school training, consisting of 2-4 years of college and 4 years in an optometric college.  Beyond refractive abnormalities, an optometrist's training includes limited exposure to patients with eye disorders or health problems.


What is an Optician?

Opticians are trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight. These technicians use contact lens or eyeglasses prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists or optometrists, but do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual corrections. Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.


Related Resources

Tips for Choosing an Eye Care Provider (from the National Consumers League)

Tips for Working with Your Eye M.D. (from EyeCare America)

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