An optometrist examines a patients eyes

An optometrist could...


Monitor and treat a persistent eye infection. Gloved fingers hold an eye open Make sure new glasses fit properly and comfortably. An optometrist adjusting a child's glasses
Help prevent blindness by checking a patient's retinas for early signs of eye disease. Close-up image of veins in a retina Conduct a vision exam to see if a person needs glasses. An optometrist conducting a vision exam
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Optometrists are the primary caretakers of our most important sense—vision. They diagnose and detect problems not only with vision, but with the health of the eye and the whole body. Based on their diagnoses, they prescribe glasses, contact lenses, and medications; refer patients to ophthalmologists for surgery; or develop treatment plans, like vision therapy, to help correct for deficits in depth perception. Their work helps people live better at every stage of life.
Key Requirements Observant, analytical, meticulous, and patient, with excellent communications skills
Minimum Degree Professional degree (Doctorate in Optometry, DO)
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, English; if available, physiology
Median Salary
Optometrist
  $106,140
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
$10,000
$20,000
$30,000
$40,000
$50,000
$60,000
$70,000
$80,000
$90,000
$100,000
$110,000
$120,000
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Much Faster than Average (21% or more) In Demand!
Interview
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

The Doctor of Optometry degree requires the completion of a 4-year program at an accredited school of optometry, preceded by at least three years of pre-optometric study at an accredited college or university. All states require optometrists to be licensed.

Education and Training

Optometrists need a Doctor of Optometry degree, which requires the completion of a 4-year program at an accredited school of optometry. In 2009, there were 19 colleges of optometry in the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico that offered programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association. Requirements for admission to optometry schools include college courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Because a strong background in science is important, many applicants to optometry school major in a science, such as biology or chemistry, as undergraduates. Other applicants major in another subject and take many science courses offering laboratory experience.

Admission to optometry school is competitive; about 1 in 3 applicants was accepted in 2007. All applicants must take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT), a standardized exam that measures academic ability and scientific comprehension. The OAT consists of four tests: survey of the natural sciences, such as biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry; reading comprehension; physics; and quantitative reasoning. As a result, most applicants take the test after their sophomore or junior year in college, allowing them an opportunity to take the test again and raise their score. A few applicants are accepted to optometry school after three years of college and complete their bachelor's degree while attending optometry school. However, most students accepted by a school or college of optometry have completed an undergraduate degree. Each institution has its own undergraduate prerequisites, so applicants should contact the school or college of their choice for specific requirements.

Optometry programs include classroom and laboratory study of health and visual sciences, and clinical training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders. Courses in pharmacology, optics, vision science, biochemistry, and systemic diseases are included.

One-year postgraduate clinical residency programs are available for optometrists who wish to obtain advanced clinical competence within a particular area of optometry. Specialty areas for residency programs include family practice optometry, pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, vision therapy and rehabilitation, low-vision rehabilitation, cornea and contact lenses, refractive and ocular surgery, primary eye care optometry, and ocular disease.

Other Qualifications

Business acumen, self-discipline, and the ability to deal tactfully with patients are important for success. The work of optometrists also requires attention to detail and manual dexterity.

Nature of the Work

Optometrists, also known as doctors of optometry (or ODs), are the main providers of vision care. They examine people's eyes to diagnose vision problems, such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, and they test patients' depth and color perception and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Optometrists might prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses, or they might provide other treatments, such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation.

In this video, you will see how optometrist Dr. Raj Patel examines, diagnoses, and takes care of his patients' most important sense—the sense of sight.

Optometrists also test for glaucoma and other eye diseases, and diagnose conditions caused by systemic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, referring patients to other health practitioners, as needed. They prescribe medication to treat vision problems or eye diseases, and some provide preoperative and postoperative care to cataract patients, as well as to patients who have had corrective laser surgery. Like other physicians, optometrists encourage preventative measures by promoting nutrition and hygiene education to their patients to minimize the risk of eye disease.

Although most work in a general practice as a primary care optometrist, some optometrists prefer to specialize in a particular field, such as contact lenses, geriatrics, pediatrics, or vision therapy. As a result, an increasing number of optometrists are forming group practices in which each group member specializes in a specific area, while still remaining a full-scope practitioner. For example, an expert in low-vision rehabilitation might help legally blind patients by custom-fitting them with a magnifying device that will enable them to read. Some might specialize in occupational vision, developing ways to protect workers' eyes from on-the-job strain or injury. Others might focus on sports vision, head trauma, or ocular disease and special testing. A few optometrists teach optometry, perform research, or consult.

Most optometrists are private practitioners who also handle the business aspects of running an office, such as developing a patient base, hiring employees, keeping paper and electronic records, and ordering equipment and supplies. Optometrists who operate franchise optical stores also might have some of these duties.

Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery, as well as diagnose and treat eye diseases and injuries. Like optometrists, they also examine eyes and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Dispensing opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, might fit contact lenses according to prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists.

Work Environment

Optometrists usually work in their own offices, which are clean, well-lit, and comfortable. Although most full-time optometrists work standard business hours, some work weekends and evenings to suit the needs of patients. Once uncommon, emergency calls have increased with the passage of therapeutic-drug laws expanding optometrists' ability to prescribe medications.

On the Job

  • Examine eyes, using observation, instruments and pharmaceutical agents, to determine visual acuity and perception, focus and coordination and to diagnose diseases and other abnormalities such as glaucoma or color blindness.
  • Prescribe medications to treat eye diseases if state laws permit.
  • Prescribe, supply, fit and adjust eyeglasses, contact lenses and other vision aids.
  • Analyze test results and develop a treatment plan.
  • Educate and counsel patients on contact lens care, visual hygiene, lighting arrangements and safety factors.
  • Remove foreign bodies from the eye.
  • Consult with and refer patients to ophthalmologist or other health care practitioner if additional medical treatment is determined necessary.
  • Provide patients undergoing eye surgeries, such as cataract and laser vision correction, with pre- and post-operative care.
  • Prescribe therapeutic procedures to correct or conserve vision.
  • Provide vision therapy and low vision rehabilitation.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Optometrists

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
Yogi Berra said "You can observe a lot by just watching." In this human biology science fair project, you will observe how your eyes perceive color by watching afterimages. Afterimages are the images you see after staring at an object for several seconds and then looking away. You will also learn how different cone cells in your retina respond to different colors. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever looked through a magnifying lens? Why do things look bigger when you look at them through the magnifying lens? Even though the object appears to get larger, it really stays the same size. Each lens has its own unique power of magnification, which can be measured with a ruler. How powerful is your lens? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
You know how to make new colors by mixing paint or crayons. For example, you get green by mixing yellow and blue, or orange by mixing red and yellow. With paint, blue, yellow, and red are primary colors, which you can use to make other colors. Have you ever tried making colors with light? Are the primary colors the same ones you use for paint? Do this experiment and find out. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you enjoy going stargazing? In a good location on a clear night, you can see a huge number of stars twinkling in the night's sky. Have you ever wondered how far those stars are from us? Ancient astronomers actually discovered a way figure this out, measuring the distance from Earth to faraway stars. How did they do it without modern technologies? In this astronomy science project you will find out by exploring the link between the distance of an object and perspective (also known as… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Peripheral vision is important in our everyday lives because it allows us to gather a visual sense of our surroundings—without it, we would see the world through "tunnel vision." The survival of our ancient ancestors depended on their ability to use peripheral vision to find prey and to avoid predators. Almost everything we do—from riding a bike, to dribbling a basketball, to reading a book—depends on peripheral vision. In this human biology science fair project, you will test… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
This project shows that our perceptions can change, even with the stimulus remains the same. A clear color difference in an image disappears after just 20 seconds of looking at another (special) image. Now you see it, now you don't! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
What is your favorite color and why? Do you think that simple tasks might be biased by your preferences? Find out in this science project if your color preferences will bias your fine motor skills when doing quick, repetitive tasks. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever noticed how the moon appears bigger at the horizon, just as it is rising over the treetops, than it does later in the evening when it is overhead? Of course, the size of the moon does not change, but our perception of its size changes based on where it is in the sky. In this human biology science fair project, you will investigate Emmert's law, which explains the full moon illusion. You will estimate the size of the perceived increase in the size of the moon at the horizon. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
If you stare at a waterfall, or look at passing scenery from the window of a moving train, you will have a strange sensation when you turn your gaze to something stationary. You can investigate these types of motion after-effects with simple equipment described by the Exploratorium. How long does it take to induce the effect? How long does the effect last? Can the after-effect be canceled by viewing motion in the opposite direction? (Staff, date unknown) Read more

Ask Questions

Do you have a specific question about a career as an Optometrist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.

Additional Information

Sources

Free science fair projects.