How Long Does IT Take to Become an Optometrist?

Students wondering how to become an optometrist can learn about the different steps in the process, from choosing an optometrist major to specializing in the field. We also answer other important questions, like 'how long is optometry school?'. Schools offering Optician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Optometrist Overview

Optometrists are doctors who care for patients eyes. Outside of routine eye exams, they are also qualified to diagnose and treat an array of visual injuries, disorders, diseases, and other issues. Job duties for optometrists may include, but are not limited to:

  • Prescribing corrective lenses (glasses or contacts)
  • Conducting minor visual surgeries
  • Evaluating patients' eyes and perform vision tests
  • Educating patients on eye care
  • Offering vision therapy and other treatments

Check out the table below for more on the field of optometry:

Degree RequiredDoctoral degree
Other RequirementsLicensure
Annual Median Salary (2018)*$111,790
Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)*18%

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

How to Become an Optometrist

Becoming an optometrist, or doctor of the visual system, takes more time than becoming other related positions in the eye-care field, such as becoming an optician. The answer to 'how long does it take to become an optometrist?' is usually 7 to 9 years, depending on the length of your bachelor's degree program and if you choose an optional specialization residency program. Explore each step in the process of becoming an optometrist in more detail here.

Step 1: What is a Good Optometrist Major?

While there is no required major for optometrists, these professionals need at least 3 years of postsecondary education before applying to optometry school. Students may consider a range of health-related bachelor's degree programs, pre-medical programs, or biology programs. Any of these bachelor's degree programs are likely to have courses like chemistry, math, and biology, all of which offer great preparation for the profession.

Although not overly common, there are some institutions that may offer a pre-optometry and vision science track. These schools may prepare students to apply to the institution's professional program in optometry and help them meet the prerequisite coursework requirements.

Step 2: How Long is Optometry School?

Doctor of Optometry (OD) programs are a prerequisite for licensure and take 4 years to complete. Students must first apply to OD school with the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), prerequisite coursework in science, math, and English, and volunteer or work experience in the field.

Once admitted, students begin taking advanced courses in areas like anatomy, optics, optometry, and ocular pathology. Most coursework is completed in the first 2 years so that students can do clinical rotations in their last 2 years. These clinical rotations allow students to receive hands-on experience with patients while exploring different topics in the field, such as geriatric optometry and pediatric optometry.

Step 3: How Can I Specialize?

Optometrists wishing to specialize in a particular area of the field must complete a residency program after optometry school. These programs generally take 1 year to complete and may be completed on- or off-campus. Students interested in a residency program may be able to specialize in areas like:

  • Vision therapy and rehabilitation
  • Primary care/contact lenses
  • Pediatric optometry
  • Ocular disease
  • Primary care/community health

Step 4: Do I Need a License to Practice?

All optometrists must be licensed to practice. Some states may have their own exams in addition to the national exam, but all optometrists must pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam and participate in continuing education to maintain their license. Although it is not required, many optometrists pursue board certification from the American Board of Optometry to demonstrate advanced skill and experience in the field to deliver quality care.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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