Optometrists are doctors who specialize in examining, diagnosing and treating vision problems. They sometimes specialize is a specific discipline of optometry such as vision therapy or diseases of the eye. Or, they may focus on specific patient types, such as pediatrics or geriatrics. Optometrists must need a state license to practice professionally.
The minimum education requirement for optometrists is a doctor of optometry degree. Only 20 colleges and universities in the United States were approved by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education as of 2011. Aspiring optometrists start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree or at least three years of postsecondary education that includes required coursework in life sciences, mathematics and English. After completing undergraduate studies, students must pass the Optometry Admission Test to attend an accredited school of optometry. A doctor of optometry is completed in four years, which includes classroom and clinical training. All states require passing the National Boards in Optometry exam to obtain a license. The exam consists of three sections: applied basic science, patient assessment and management and clinical skills.
Using professional equipment, pharmaceuticals and technology, optometrists perform an extensive examination of a patient’s eyes. They start by dilating the pupils to check for eye diseases or disorders. Optometrists then perform a vision test. If the patient requires a prescription to correct her vision, optometrists use equipment to find the required lenses.
After examining a patient’s eyes and vision, optometrists diagnose potential vision problems and diseases. They prescribe glasses or contact lenses, medication or refer patients to other health-care professionals for surgery or treatment. They counsel patients to promote better eye health, teach them how to use their medications or how to care for their prescribed eyewear.
Career Outlook and Salary
Job growth of optometrists is expected to increase 33 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Along with an aging population that will require more vision care, the BLS expects a large number of those practicing in the field to retire. The limited number of accredited educational programs of optometry will offer good employment opportunities for those graduating and entering the field. As of 2011, optometrists earned an average salary of $107,720 per year, according to the BLS.
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