Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.

Duties

Optometrists typically do the following:

  • Perform vision tests and analyze results
  • Diagnose sight problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, and eye diseases, such as glaucoma
  • Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids, and if state law permits, medications
  • Perform minor surgical procedures to correct or treat visual or eye health issues
  • Provide treatments such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation
  • Provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing eye surgery—for example, examining a patient’s eyes the day after surgery
  • Evaluate patients for the presence of other diseases and conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and refer patients to other healthcare providers as needed
  • Promote eye and general health by counseling patients

Some optometrists spend much of their time providing specialized care, particularly if they are working in a group practice with other optometrists or physicians. For example, some optometrists mostly treat patients with only partial sight, a condition known as low vision. Others may focus on treating infants and children.

Optometrists promote eye health and counsel patients on how general health can affect eyesight. For example, they may counsel patients on how quitting smoking or losing weight can reduce vision problems.

Many optometrists own their practice, and those who do may spend more time on general business activities, such as hiring employees, ordering supplies, and marketing their business.

Optometrists also may work as postsecondary teachers, do research in optometry colleges, or work as consultants in the eye care industry.

Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and treat eye diseases in addition to performing eye exams and prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. For more information on ophthalmologists, see the physicians and surgeons profile. Opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, fill contact lens prescriptions that an optometrist or ophthalmologist has written.

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Work Environment

Optometrists held about 42,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of optometrists were as follows:

Offices of optometrists 53%
Offices of physicians 16
Health and personal care stores                     13
Self-employed workers 10

Work Schedules

Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.

Education and Training

Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. O.D. programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering such a program.

Education

Optometrists need an O.D. degree. In 2016, there were 20 accredited O.D. programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico.

Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education. Required courses include those in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. Most students have a bachelor’s degree with a premedical or biological sciences emphasis before enrolling in an O.D. program.

Applicants to O.D. programs must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), a computerized exam that tests applicants in four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.

O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.

After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize. Areas of specialization for residency programs include family practice, low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. degree from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam.

Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on laws relating to optometry. All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.

Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become board certified by the American Board of Optometry.

Personality and Interests

Optometrists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Helping interest which might fit with a career as an optometrist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Optometrists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Decision-making skills. Optometrists must be able to evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

Interpersonal skills. Because they spend much of their time examining patients, optometrists must be able to help their patients feel at ease.

Speaking skills. Optometrists must be able to clearly explain eyecare instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.

Pay

The median annual wage for optometrists was $115,250 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $194,100.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for optometrists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Offices of physicians $122,800
Health and personal care stores                          116,370
Offices of optometrists 110,930

Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ needs.

Job Outlook

Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will lead to demand for optometrists. As people age, they become more susceptible to conditions that impair vision, such as cataracts and macular degeneration, and will need vision care.

The number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has grown in recent years. Diabetes has been linked to increased rates of several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects the blood vessels in the eye and may lead to loss of vision. More optometrists will be needed to monitor, treat, and refer individuals with chronic conditions stemming from diabetes.

In addition, nearly all health plans cover medical eye care and many cover preventive eye exams. More optometrists will be needed to provide services to more patients.

Job Prospects

Because the number of optometrists is limited by the number of accredited optometry schools, licensed optometrists should expect good job prospects. Like admission to professional degree programs in other fields, admission to optometry programs is highly competitive.

Students who choose to complete a residency program gain additional experience that may improve their job prospects. Board certification from the American Board of Optometry also may be viewed favorably by employers.

For More Information

For more information about optometry, visit

American Optometric Association

For more information about optometrists, including a list of accredited optometric programs, visit

Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry

For information on specific admission requirements and sources of financial aid, contact the admissions officers of individual optometry schools.

For more information about the national board exam, visit

National Boards of Examiners in Optometry

For more information about board certification, visit

American Board of Optometry

 

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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