Optometrist – O.D.s

What Doctors of Optometry Do

Everyone has either seen or will see an optometrist in their lifetime, since these eye specialists are considered the primary health care professionals that people see for eye related issues. Eye related issues range from changes in vision to some eye diseases. Optometrists are eye care professionals that people seek, ranging from children to the elderly, when their vision has changed due to conditions like myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia, and other causes as well. They use their skills and instruments to diagnose vision problems or changes, as well as prescribe eye glasses, contact lenses, low vision tools and other products to correct any errors. An optometrist also checks patients for visual acuity, color perception, peripheral vision, eye coordination, and a range of other areas to determine if corrective measures are needed. For example, the peripheral vision test that the ophthalmic assistant administers is done by the patient pressing a button when they see they flashing spots on the screen in different areas.

Optometrists do not only check patients for vision changes but also diagnose certain eye conditions and diseases such as glaucoma, ocular pressure, and cataracts. For anyone who has had an appointment with an optometrist, the glaucoma test that shoots a puff of air into the eye to measure ocular pressure, is a common one in most offices. They can also take other steps to measure, test, or alleviate conditions through the use of eye drops, special screening techniques, and therapeutic medication. Plus, they can detect systemic diseases and refer patients to doctors who are better suited for the treatment of these issues like an ophthalmologist. These eye specialists also handle post-surgical care and issues for patients, and help children’s visual development. Only optometrists with licenses or certifications for Therapeutic Pharmaceutical Agents (TPA) and Diagnostic Pharmaceutical Agent (DPA) can administer, prescribe, and dispense medications or use certain diagnostic drugs. The duties of an optometrist can range in so many ways involving every age from infants to seniors, and they help with minor vision changes all the way to detecting major vision changes such as detecting blindness, which is why they are referred to as Doctors of Optometry.

What Optometrist Don’t Do

People tend to confuse the role of an optometrist and an ophthalmologist and what each profession can handle in terms of diagnosis and treatment. Although optometrists are knowledgeable and have a variety of skill sets and instruments to diagnose and correct many eye related problems, they are not MDs or DOs capable of handling all medical issues. They can detect eye problems related to a condition such as diabetes, but any further treatment or help needs to be referred to a MD or an ophthalmologist. An optometrist can help patients remove debris from the eye or other minor problems, but can’t perform surgical procedures like Lasik or cataract removal. The major point is that optometrists are the starting block for eye related issues and anything requiring major surgery or affecting other parts of the body are not in their realm of expertise.

Optometry Schools and Licensing

To become an optometrist, candidates must first obtain a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from a school accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education to then become licensed. There are 19 accredited colleges and universities in the US, 1 in Puerto Rico, and 2 in Canada that are very competitive in their selection process. Each optometry school has its own requirements for admission but generally require undergraduate work of at least 3 years, with the majority requiring an undergraduate degree, and a good score on the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). All states require optometrists to be licensed which usually involves passing written and practical exams by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry, plus they may also require a state written and practical exams. Maintaining an optometry license requires a fee and continuing education credits, however each state may have other standards. Check out the optometry schools, optometry residency, and optometry license sections for more detailed information.

Optometrist Salary and Work Area

Optometrists have a variety of settings to work in and specials areas that they can focus on, but the majority are self-employed with their own office that can also be a retail store for eye wear products. Others can work for ophthalmologists, hospitals, surgical offices, HMOs, and other facilities as well. Some continue their studies to become teachers, professors, and researchers in a multitude of topics relating to optometry. Optometrist salaries will vary due to these factors, as well as experience and location. According to the BLS the average salary for optometrists in 2009 was $106,960, with the top 10% making over $166,000. Read the Optometrist Salary section for more detailed information including individual states numbers.

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