If you search for 'eye care near me' or 'eye exam near me' in your favorite search engine or on a map, you'll likely find several optometrists listed. But what is the role of an optometrist in eye and vision care? An optometrist is a primary eye care professional who can diagnose and manage eye and vision problems. Here is what you need to know about your neighborhood optometrist.
What Makes an Optometrist?
Optometrists typically complete eight years of education after high school. They obtain a four-year university degree and then proceed to complete a four-year program to obtain a Doctor of Optometry degree. Some programs allow optometrists to complete three years of undergraduate study before transitioning into an optometry school.
While optometrists do not attend medical school, they attend optometry school, which includes education about vision, pharmacology, general health, and ocular diseases and treatments. Optometry students start working with diagnostic equipment from the first year of optometry school and often begin seeing patients under supervision in their third year. Upon completing their training, optometrists must pass a three-part National Board of Optometry (NBEO) examination, covering basic sciences such as pharmacology and immunology, ocular diseases and treatments, and a live practical of key diagnostic skills.
After obtaining their degree and passing the NBEO examination, optometrists must fulfill their state licensing requirements. For California, this includes passing a law exam focused on the state's optometry laws and regulations. Only after completing all these requirements are optometrists allowed to practice unsupervised. Some optometrists choose to pursue a one-year residency to enhance their skills in specific areas like ocular diseases or pediatric optometry, while others begin practicing immediately after graduation and learn under the mentorship of an established optometrist.
What an Optometrist Does
Optometrists are trained to diagnose ocular diseases and vision problems and prescribe appropriate treatments. This includes assessing visual acuity and prescribing glasses and contact lenses for clear vision. Additionally, optometrists can treat and manage various vision conditions and eye diseases, such as:
- Dry Eye Disease
- Eye infections and inflammation
- Eye diseases like glaucoma
- Low Vision
- Binocular Vision Problems
- Ocular Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury
During an eye exam, optometrists may also notice the effects of undiagnosed systemic conditions such as diabetes or idiopathic intracranial hypertension. If a systemic problem is identified, the optometrist will refer the patient to the appropriate specialist for further evaluation and treatment.
A Commitment to Continuing Education
Similar to ophthalmologists, optometrists devote time to learning and independent research outside of their clinical practice to provide the best possible eye and vision care. Optometrists may fulfill their continuing education requirements through annual meetings, online professional events, or self-study courses. In California, optometrists are required to obtain fifty hours of continuing education every two years, with a minimum of thirty-five hours focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of ocular diseases.
Optometrists can further enhance their knowledge in specific areas by collaborating with dedicated organizations like the American Academy of Optometry, which offers additional education, training, and experience opportunities.
Optometrists and Ophthalmologists
Optometrists and ophthalmologists work together to manage both refractive and medical aspects of eye health. Optometrists diagnose and correct refractive errors, as well as treat various ocular diseases. On the other hand, ophthalmologists also treat eye diseases and often handle more complex cases due to their extensive training, including performing surgeries. Through collaboration, optometrists serve as the initial point of contact, while ophthalmologists offer specialized surgical treatments. This comprehensive care approach ensures that patients receive the best possible care for their vision and overall eye health.
Optometrists, Ophthalmologists, and Opticians
While optometrists and ophthalmologists diagnose vision conditions and prescribe corrective measures, opticians work with patients to ensure that these corrections are properly fitted and integrated. Opticians assist patients in choosing frames and lenses that are not only stylish and comfortable but also appropriate for their prescription.
Optometrists are highly trained healthcare professionals and integral members of the eye care team. It is recommended to visit your optometrist at least once a year, or sooner if advised, to maintain good vision and eye health.
Clinical and Metaverse Optometrist at Benjamin Eye Institute