The Years Required to Be a Certified Optometrist

by Steve McDonnell

Your eyes are a vital part of your body. From the time you are born until you reach age 12, 80 percent of what you learn is visual. Optometrists examine your eyes to diagnose and treat problems that affect your vision. Before you can be certified as an optometrist, you must be licensed. Licensing requires four years of undergraduate study and four years of optometry school. Certification takes another three years -- one year in a residency program and two years working as a medical optometrist.

Optometry School Prerequisites

To become an optometrist, you must apply and become accepted to an optometry school. As of 2011, there were 19 accredited programs in the United States and one in Puerto Rico. A prerequisite to optometry school is a bachelor's degree at a four-year accredited college or university. Coursework should include biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, microbiology or bacteriology, biochemistry, statistics, calculus, psychology and English. A course in anatomy and physiology is helpful, but usually not required. All optometry schools also require you to take the Optometry Admission Test, or OAT. The test measures overall academic ability, your scientific comprehension and your perception skills.

Doctor of Optometry

It takes four years of optometry school to earn a Doctor of Optometry, or O.D., degree. Optometry programs include classroom instruction, lab work and clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed optometrist. The amount of direct patient care experience increases each year, and your final year of optometry school consists of full-time clinical rotations at health-care facilities such as hospitals, community clinics and specialty care centers.

Licensed Optometrist

To become a licensed optometrist, you must pass some or all of the national board examinations in optometry, depending on the state in which you intend to work. All states require you to pass the first two parts of the optometry boards. Every state except Florida and Louisiana requires you to pass the third part. All but eight states also require you to pass the Treatment and Management of Ocular Disease, or TMOD, exam. In addition to the national boards, many states have their own exams, usually focused on law, that you must pass to become licensed.

Medical Optometry Certification

After you obtain your license, you can begin working toward a certification in medical optometry by enrolling in a one-year postgraduate residency program in medical optometry. After you complete your residency, you must pass a written exam and work for two years practicing medical optometry before you can apply for your certification. While certification is a credential that establishes your expertise in medical optometry, it's optional and is not required by any state.

About the Author

Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.

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