The Three Types Of Eye Doctors
Would you like a career helping people protect their eyesight and see as clearly as they can? You might consider becoming an optician, an optometrist, or an ophthalmologist. All three types of eye doctors play an important role in providing eye care, but they differ in what they do. It is important to know the distinction between an ophthalmologist vs optometrist vs optician. Opticians are technicians who fit eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other vision-correcting devices. Optometrists are eye doctors who examine, diagnose, and treat patients’ eyes. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who perform medical and surgical treatments for eye conditions.
The three types of eye doctors also differ in their level of education. A job as an optician requires the shortest training, only a year or two after graduating high school. Preparing to become an optometrist takes about four years of optometry school after a four-year college degree. An ophthalmologist must have about eight years of medical training after a four-year college degree.
WHAT IS AN OPTICIAN?
Opticians are eye care professionals but not officially “eye doctors,” and they cannot give eye exams. They are technicians trained to fit eyeglass lenses and frames and contact lenses to correct vision problems. Opticians cannot diagnose or treat eye diseases or write prescriptions. Many have one or two years of training and are licensed, but not all states require opticians to have a license.
WHAT IS AN OPTOMETRIST?
Optometrists perform eye exams and vision tests, prescribe and dispense corrective lenses, detect eye abnormalities, and prescribe medications for eye diseases. Many confuse the responsibilities of an optometrist vs ophthalmologist. Optometrists are not medical doctors. Instead, they have a doctor of optometry (OD) degree after finishing three or more years of college and four years of optometry school.
WHAT IS AN OPHTHALMOLOGIST?
Ophthalmologists are doctors of medicine (MDs) who specialize in eye and vision care. They have completed college and at least four years of additional medical training. There is a key difference between an optometrist vs ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists can provide all the services optometrists can—they can treat eye diseases, prescribe medication, and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems. In addition, they are licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery.
A CAREER AS AN OPHTHALMOLOGIST
Most ophthalmologists have modest full-time workloads. A majority spend 30 to 45 hours a week seeing patients. Many ophthalmologists work in private practice, with regularly scheduled hours in their offices and in surgery. Emergencies are rare, so ophthalmologists keep more regular hours than many other medical practitioners. On average, ophthalmologists spend about 10 hours per week on paperwork and administration, less time than most other medical specialties.
Ophthalmologists are well paid. Medscape, a company that provides online information to physicians and other healthcare professionals, does an annual survey comparing the salaries of different medical specialties. The Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020 determined that the average salary for an ophthalmologist was $378,000, above average for a physician.
TRAINING AS AN OPTHALMOLOGIST
The training needed to become an ophthalmologist differs for other types of eye doctors. To become an ophthalmologist, you must obtain a bachelor's degree, then complete four years of medical school, from a reputable institution such as the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). After that you must complete one year of internship, and a minimum of three years of a hospital-based residency in ophthalmology.
Undergraduates interested in ophthalmology often major in chemistry or biology. Some medical schools admit students with only three years of undergraduate coursework, but most schools require applicants to finish four years of college and earn a bachelor’s degree. During your junior year of college, you should study for and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT assesses your basic knowledge of science. The exam includes sections on biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, scientific inquiry, and reasoning skills.
You will begin medical school with classes in such fields as anatomy, biology, chemistry, and behavioral sciences. Your last two years of medical school will be spent with patients under the supervision of licensed physicians. You will complete rotations in many areas of medicine, including internal medicine, family practice, gynecology, pediatrics, and surgery.
After graduating from medical school, aspiring ophthalmologists must complete a one-year internship. During the internship, you work directly with patients under the supervision of an experienced ophthalmologist. You begin to learn how to examine, diagnose, and treat eye-related problems.
After your internship, you will do a residency in which you will learn more about how to examine and treat ophthalmology patients. You will also begin to master surgical techniques such as cataract removal and glaucoma laser treatments.
Ophthalmologists in the United States must hold a license to practice medicine. You may apply for a medical license from your state’s medical licensing board at the end of your residency. Each state has unique requirements. To obtain a license, you need to pass all three parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination. You will take the first part of the exam at the end of your second year of medical school, the second part during your fourth year, and the third part after your first year of residency.
Some ophthalmologists specialize in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care to treat more complex or specific conditions in certain parts of the eye or certain groups of patients. These doctors usually complete a fellowship consisting of one or two years of additional, in-depth training in a specialty, such as refractive (vision correcting) surgery, the treatment of glaucoma, or the treatment of diseases of the retina or the cornea.
Are you interested in taking the next step toward a career in ophthalmology? Learn more about American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.