Optometrists, also known as doctors of optometry, or ODs, provide most
primary vision care. They examine people’s eyes to diagnose vision problems and
eye diseases, and they test patients’ visual acuity, depth and color perception,
and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Optometrists prescribe eyeglasses
and contact lenses and provide vision therapy and low-vision rehabilitation.
Optometrists analyze test results and develop a treatment plan. They administer
drugs to patients to aid in the diagnosis of vision problems and prescribe drugs
to treat some eye diseases. Optometrists often provide preoperative and
postoperative care to cataract patients, as well as to patients who have had
laser vision correction or other eye surgery. They also diagnose conditions
caused by systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, referring
patients to other health practitioners as needed.
Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or dispensing
opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery, as well as
diagnose and treat eye diseases and injuries. Like optometrists, they also
examine eyes and prescribe eyeglasses and con-tact lenses. Dispensing opticians
fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, may fit contact lenses according
to prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists.
Most optometrists are in general practice. Some specialize in work with the
elderly, children, or partially sighted persons who need specialized visual
devices. Others develop and implement ways to protect workers’ eyes from
on-the-job strain or injury. Some specialize in contact lenses, sports vision,
or vision therapy. A few teach optometry, perform research, or consult.
Most optometrists are private practitioners who also handle the business aspects
of running an office, such as developing a patient base, hiring employees,
keeping paper and electronic records, and ordering equipment and supplies.
Optometrists who operate franchise optical stores also may have some of these
Optometrists work in places—usually their own offices—that are clean, well
lighted, and comfortable. Most full-time optometrists work about 40 hours a
week. Many work weekends and evenings to suit the needs of patients. Emergency
calls, once uncommon, have increased with the passage of therapeutic drug laws
expanding optometrists’ ability to prescribe medications.
Optometrists held about 34,000 jobs in 2004. The number of jobs is greater
than the number of practicing optometrists because some optometrists hold two or
more jobs. For example, an optometrist may have a private practice but also work
in another practice, in a clinic, or in a vision care center. According to the
American Optometric Association, about three-fourths of practicing optometrists
are in private practice. Although many practice alone, optometrists increasingly
are in a partnership or group practice.
Salaried jobs for optometrists were primarily in offices of optometrists;
offices of physicians, including ophthalmologists; and health and personal care
stores, including optical goods stores. A few salaried jobs for optometrists
were in hospitals, the Federal government, or outpatient care centers including
health maintenance organizations. Almost one third of optometrists were
self-employed and not incorporated.
All states and the District of Columbia require that optometrists be
licensed. Applicants for a license must have a Doctor of Optometry degree from
an accredited optometry school and must pass both a writ-ten National Board
examination and a national, regional, or state clinical board examination. The
written and clinical examinations of the National Board of Examiners in
Optometry usually are taken during the student’s academic career. Many states
also require applicants to pass an examination on relevant state laws. Licenses
are renewed every 1 to 3 years and, in all states, continuing education credits
are needed for renewal.
The Doctor of Optometry degree requires the completion of a 4-year program at an
accredited optometry school, preceded by at least 3 years of preoptometric study
at an accredited college or university. Most optometry students hold a
bachelor’s or higher degree. In 2004, 17 U.S. schools and colleges of optometry
offered programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education
of the American Optometric Association.
Requirements for admission to schools of optometry include courses in English,
mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. A few schools also require or
recommend courses in psychology, history, sociology, speech, or business.
Because a strong background in science is important, many applicants to
optometry school major in a science such as biology or chemistry, while other
applicants major in another subject and take many science courses offering
laboratory experience. Applicants must take the Optometry Admissions Test, which
measures academic ability and scientific comprehension. Admission to optometry
school is competitive. As a result, most applicants take the test after their
sophomore or junior year, allowing them an opportunity to take the test again
and raise their score. A few applicants are accepted to optometry school after 3
years of college and complete their bachelor’s degree while attending optometry
Optometry programs include classroom and laboratory study of health and visual
sciences, as well as clinical training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye
disorders. Courses in pharmacology, optics, vision science, biochemistry, and
systemic disease are included.
Business ability, self-discipline, and the ability to deal tactfully with
patients are important for success. The work of optometrists requires attention
to detail and manual dexterity.
Optometrists wishing to teach or conduct research may study for a master’s or
Ph.D. degree in visual science, physiological optics, neurophysiology, public
health, health administration, health information and communication, or health
education. One-year postgraduate clinical residency programs are available for
optometrists who wish to obtain advanced clinical competence. Specialty areas
for residency programs include family practice optometry, pediatric optometry,
geriatric optometry, vision therapy and rehabilitation, low-vision
rehabilitation, cornea and contact lenses, refractive and ocular surgery,
primary eye care optometry, and ocular disease.
Employment of optometrists is expected to grow faster than average for all
occupations through 2014, in response to the vision care needs of a growing and
aging population. As baby boomers age, they will be more likely to visit
optometrists and ophthalmologists because of the onset of vision problems in
middle age, including those resulting from the extensive use of computers. The
demand for optometric services also will increase because of growth in the
oldest age group, with its in-creased likelihood of cataracts, glaucoma,
diabetes, and hypertension. Greater recognition of the importance of vision
care, along with rising personal incomes and growth in employee vision care
plans, also will spur job growth.
Employment of optometrists would grow more rapidly were it not for anticipated
productivity gains that will allow each optometrist to see more patients. These
expected gains stem from greater use of optometric assistants and other support
personnel, who will reduce the amount of time optometrists need with each
patient. Also, laser surgery that can correct some vision problems is available,
and although optometrists still will be needed to provide preoperative and
postoperative care for laser surgery patients, patients who successfully undergo
this surgery may not require optometrists to prescribe glasses or contacts for
In addition to growth, the need to replace optometrists who retire or leave the
occupation for another reason will create employment opportunities.
Median annual earnings of salaried optometrists were $88,410 in May 2004. The
middle 50 percent earned between $63,840 and $118,320. Median annual earnings of
salaried optometrists in May 2004 were $87,430 in offices of optometrists.
Salaried optometrists tend to earn more initially than do optometrists who set
up their own practices. In the long run, however, those in private practice
usually earn more.
According to the American Optometric Association, median net annual income for
all optometrists, including the self-employed, was $114,000 in 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $84,000 and $166,000.
Additional Optometrists career and job resources are presented in the paperback
Health Care Job Explosion! 4th edition by Dennis V. Damp for this
occupational group. Resources include Job Ads, Job Hotlines, Job Fairs,
Placement services, Associations, Books, Directories and Internet (Web) Sites.
Your local library may have this book in their reference section or you can
purchase a copy for $19.95 plus shipping with all major credit cards from our
toll free service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at all major
bookstores. Also explore jobs at VA hospitals and other
federal government employment options.
American Academy of Optometry (AAO) - 6110 Executive Blvd, Ste. 506,
Rockville, MD 20852; 301/984-1441. (www.aaopt.org/,
email@example.com) The Student page on the web site has directory of student and
faculty liaisons at schools of optometry in the U.S., as well as some
National Optometric Association (NOA) - Contact Dr. Charles Comer, director,
3723 Main St., or P.O. Box F, East Chicago, IN 46312; 877/394-2020. (http:/natoptassoc.org,
firstname.lastname@example.org) Organization of minority optometrists. Student association has
listing of student contacts at schools of optometry.
Opportunities in Eye Care Careers by Kathleen M. Belikoff. McGraw-Hill, 2003,
$11.95. ISBN: 007141150X. Presents advice and up-to-date information on career
opportunities in eye care. It covers what life is like on the job, training
requirements, and places to go for more information.