Eye Doctor: Knowing the Difference Between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician

Last Updated October 13, 2021

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Is there something strange going on with your eyes? Are you having vision problems? Or you just need a check up?  Who you gonna call? An eye doctor! But do you know which eye care professional to schedule an appointment with – an ophthalmologist, optometrist or optician?

A surprising number of people don’t know the difference between these three main types of eye doctors. If you’re one of them, here’s some information to help you select the right eye care professional based on the specific vision issues you’re dealing with.

Ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists are eye doctors (medical or osteopathic) who provide medical and surgical care of your eyes and vision. Ophthalmologists complete four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship and a minimum of three years of hospital-based residency in ophthalmology. Some ophthalmologists specialize in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care such as glaucoma, the retina, cornea or refractive (vision correcting) surgery. To become a “subspecialist,” they complete one or two years of additional training in one of the main sub-specialty areas. Many ophthalmologists participate in scientific research into the causes of eye diseases and vision disorders and cures.

Ophthalmologists provide total eye care, including:

Ophthalmologists and optometrists have to undertake continuing education to maintain their license and stay up-to-date with the latest standards of eye care.

Optometrists

Optometrists are medical professionals, but not physicians, who provide primary vision care. They complete a four-year college degree program in the sciences and four years of post-graduate professional training in optometry school in order to receive a Doctor of Optometry degree.

An optometrist can:

If you have more complicated medical needs, your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Opticians

Opticians are eye care professionals but not medical doctors. Some opticians have had formal training and are licensed, but not all states require this.

An optician can:

Opticians cannot diagnose, treat eye conditions or provide prescriptions.

Everyone should have a trusted eye doctor. After the age of 40, you should have a trusted ophthalmologist for you and your family. You should consider adding regular exams with your eye doctor. When in doubt about who to contact, always call your local ophthalmologist’s office first and they will advise you.

You can watch this video for more information.

Published June 21, 2016