What is Optometry?

Optometrists are primary healthcare providers who examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the eyes and related structures. In addition to prescribing and fitting prescription glasses and contact lenses, optometrists diagnose diseases and prescribe medications. Optometrists also help set safe vision standards in industry and in the licensing of drivers.

Field Description


Optometry offers various specializations. Additional training in these areas is achieved through optional residency programs. Vision therapy allows children to overcome learning problems caused by vision deficiencies and to develop perception skills necessary for reading and writing. Low vision rehabilitation provides sophisticated devices for those once classified as legally blind. Sports vision goes beyond vision screening to teach vision skills that improve athletic performance. Other areas of specialization include:

  • Family Practice
  • Primary Eye Care
  • Cornea & Contact Lenses
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Ocular Disease
  • Refractive & Ocular Surgery
  • Community Health
  • Brain Injury Rehab

Optician vs. Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

Optician Optometrist Ophthalmologists
Job Description Fit, supply, and adjust eyewear prescribed by optometrists or ophthalmologists. -Primary healthcare providers who examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the eyes and related structures.

-Prescribe and fit prescription glasses and contact lenses.

-Scope of surgical practice is more limited.

-Medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and defects, including surgery.

-Licensed to perform a wider variety of surgeries compared to optometrists.

-Referred to optometrists for follow-up treatments.

Education Pathway -Min. high school degree, but some colleges offer certificate or associate’s degree in opticianry.

-23 states, including Hawai’i, require opticians to be licensed*

-Optometry School. -Medical School (MD or DO).
Years of Schooling -High School (4 years) or GED

-Certificate/ Associate's Degree (1-2 years)

-Undergraduate (~4 years)

-Optometry School (4 years)

-Residency (1+ years, optional)

-Undergraduate (~4 years)

-Medical School (4 years)

-Residency (1+ years)

Work Setting

Most optometrists work in private practice, either solo, in an associate partnership, or as part of a group:

  • Associate partnership: A new optometrist practicing alongside an established optometrist, thus avoiding the initial capital investment costs. When the established optometrist retires, the newer optometrist then buys the practice.
  • Group practice: 2 or more optometrists working in the same office, sharing costs and supplementing each other’s specialties.

Optometrists also work in health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and public health organizations; conduct clinical research for corporations; serve in government services such as the armed forces; act as consultants to industry, education, sports, and the government; or teach and conduct research in higher education.

Related Careers

Optician, ophthalmology (MD or DO).

Optometry Programs
Optometry School and Licensure