Optometrist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for optometrists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Optician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Optometrist?

An optometrist checks patients for common vision problems as well as diagnoses and treats eye injuries or disorders. To do this they conduct various vision tests that may diagnose things like farsightedness, nearsightedness, glaucoma, astigmatism and more. They can prescribe glasses or contacts to correct many issues, and most optometrists are qualified to prescribe medications if needed. Some optometrists also perform minor surgeries on the eyes. Optometrists also work to educate patients and the public on healthy and preventative eye care. Some optometrists that own their own business may be involved in hiring and marketing decisions. The following chart provides an overview about a career as an optometrist.

Degree Required Doctor of Optometry
Licensure or Certification All states require licensure
Job Duties Test patient's vision, analyze results; diagnose and treat eye and sight problems; prescribe medication, contact lenses and eyeglasses; provide pre- and postoperative patient care; evaluate for diseases that can be determined during an eye examination
Job Growth (2014-2024) 27%*
Median Salary (2015) $103,900*

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

What Does an Optometrist Do?

Doctors of optometry, otherwise known as optometrists, perform eye exams and conduct tests to search for vision troubles and eye diseases. They diagnose any problems found and give appropriate treatment or therapy.

As an optometrist, your duties will include treating eye injuries and prescribing corrective lenses for vision problems. You can prescribe medications and care for patients before and after operations. You'll also educate patients about preventing vision problems and keeping their eyes healthy. Your job may involve consulting with ophthalmologists, who perform eye surgeries, and referring patients to them if necessary.

The majority of optometrists are general practitioners, but some focus on geriatric optometry, eye diseases, sports optometry or other specializations. You may work in your own practice or in an office with other optometrists. Other potential work sites include chain optometry stores, hospitals and outpatient facilities.

What Are the Educational Requirements?

You must obtain an undergraduate degree followed by a Doctor of Optometry to work as an optometrist. Before entering optometry school, you'll need to complete three or more years of pre-optometry courses at an accredited university or college. According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), you'll want your studies to include pre-professional science classes with lab work (www.opted.org). Potential courses include general biology, organic chemistry and physiology.

You'll need to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) before applying to optometry schools. You may earn a Doctor of Optometry after finishing four years of study at an optometry college accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education. After graduating, you could go on to complete a year of residency in a specialty area, such as ocular disease or pediatric optometry.

How Do I Become Licensed?

Before practicing optometry, you have to become licensed in the state in which you'll work. This process involves passing national board examinations. You'll most likely take the written and clinical examinations, which the National Board of Examiners in Optometry administers, during your doctoral studies. You may also need to pass state exams to receive licensure. Renewal requires continuing education credits, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), every state requires renewal every 1-3 years.

What Could I Earn?

The BLS reported that optometrists earned a median yearly salary of $103,900 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The employment outlook for optometrists was extremely promising, with significantly quicker growth forecasted than for other careers. The BLS projected job opportunities for optometrists would increase by 27% from 2014 to 2024.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few related careers in the medical field include chiropractors, podiatrists and dentists, all of which require a doctoral or professional degree. Chiropractors use spinal adjustments and other techniques to help their patients manage and treat neck and back pain. They focus on treating the bones, tendons, muscles and nerves in these areas. Podiatrists specialize in caring for and treating the feet, ankles and lower legs. These professionals may perform surgery in these areas as well. Dentists provide preventative care, as well as treat any issues of the teeth, gums and mouth.

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