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Is Your Eye Care Professional an Optician, an Optometrist, or an Ophthalmologist?

Whom you see may depend on the level of care you need.

  • An optician is a specialist in fitting eyeglasses and making lenses to correct vision problems.
  • An optometrist is a primary healthcare doctor of the eye and visual system who provides comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.

An optometrist may perform an eye exam and write a prescription for corrective lenses, while an optician may fill that prescription.

Are you with me so far? Now let’s add one more “o” to the mix:

  • An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis, management, and surgery of ocular diseases and disorders.

It’s common for ophthalmologists or optometrists to work side-by-side with opticians to serve a patient’s overall eyecare and eyewear needs.

Let’s use a real-life scenario: an optometrist conducts your thorough eye exam and prescribes corrective lenses. You’re then escorted to the eyeglass area where an optician helps you select your frames and lens options. If surgery is indicated or if the optometrist detects an eye concern that is outside of his or her scope of practice, you may be referred to an ophthalmologist for more advanced care. Now keep in mind, this is one typical scenario, but not necessarily indicative of all situations.

The following comparison gives a general overview of the differences in the United States; however, requirements and scope of licensure can vary greatly by state.

  Optician Optometrist Ophthalmologist  
     
  Specializes in filling lens prescriptions, assisting patients with lens and frame selection and fitting X    
  Has a one or two year degree or certification X    
  A doctor of optometry (D.O.) Education includes 4 years of post-graduate doctoral training   X  
  A medical doctor (M.D.) Post-graduate training includes 4 years of medical school, residency and internship training, and an additional 4-5 years of postgraduate training in ophthalmology.     X
  Performs vision correction exams, or “refractions”   X X
  Fits and prescribes contact lenses and prescription eyeglass lenses   X X
  Diagnose and treat conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, and treatment of some eye-related conditions   X X
  Prescribes certain medications for eye conditions   X X
  Provides vision therapy services   X X
  Can provide pre- and post-operative care following eye surgery   X X
  Can perform surgeries related to the eye     X
  Diagnose and treat complex medical eye conditions     X
  Prescribes a broad range of medications for more complicated conditions     X

Now that you understand the difference between the three "o's", the next time you're at your eye doctor's office, ask each person treating you what their accreditation is. It may help you better understand their role in your care, and ensure you ask the right questions of the right people.

Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology, World Council of Ophthalmology