The Difference Between an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist

Everyone knows that when you are having eye problems the best person to see is obviously an eye doctor. But are you aware that not all eye doctors are the same? Before you schedule an appointment with an eye doctor, make sure it’s the right eye specialist or find an eye doctor that fit for your case. When you are experiencing problems that involve your eyesight it is best to know the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. Knowing the difference between the two is important so you will know whom to call.

Optometrist Versus Ophthalmologist: What Is the Difference?

Majority of patients do not know the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist. These two distinct eye specialists are often thought to be the same and are, in most cases, mixed up because their names are somewhat similar. Although both doctors are licensed to treat a wide range of eye problems, their scope of practice is dissimilar. Let’s understand and identify their differences.

What Does an Optometrist Do?

The main distinction between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist is that an optometrist is not considered a medical doctor but rather a Doctor of Optometry or DO. After they have successfully completed four years of undergraduate studies, they must undergo an additional four years of optometry school to obtain a doctorate in optometry. As soon as they achieve their doctor of optometry title, they must again undergo at least three years of schooling. After a successful licensing, they can then freely practice optometry.

An optometrist is a specialist that evaluates your symptoms, comes up with diagnosis and creates a tailor-made treatment plan for eye disorders, injuries and diseases. They are licensed to prescribe medications, contact lenses, spectacle lenses, vision therapy, and low vision rehabilitation and perform eye surgeries.

What Does an Ophthalmologist Do?

Ophthalmologists are osteopathic (DO) or medical doctors (MD) whose scope of practice includes the diagnosis and treatment of all eye conditions. Ophthalmologists are also licensed to perform eye surgeries. They prescribe contact lenses and eyeglasses to improve and correct visual impairments. In addition, ophthalmologists are also allowed to prescribe medications.

In order to become an ophthalmologist, you must complete four years of undergraduate studies; undergo four years of medical school, an additional year of internship and at least three years of residency. As soon as you have completed all academic requirements and have successfully passed all licensure exams, you will be given permission to perform a wide range of eye surgeries.

Ophthalmologists can choose to subspecialize in either surgical or medical eye care. When they are done with their residency programs they will proceed to enter into fellowship. Fellowship usually lasts one to two years depending on the training required. The areas of specialization include plastic surgery, neurology, pediatrics, cornea, retina and glaucoma.

Ophthalmologists who are interested in taking complex cases are usually the ones who acquire additional training.

Do They Overlap?

Both an optometrist and an ophthalmologist are able to offer routine checkups and eye treatments. However, there are certain cases wherein an optometrist will refer a patient to an ophthalmologist.

For example, a patient schedules an appointment to see an optometrist about a problem with his retina. An optometrist will conduct a routine checkup and standard testing and then refer the patient to an ophthalmologist who specializes in treating retinas. There are cases where an optometrist and ophthalmologist are required to work together before and after eye surgery.

Tips for Choosing the Best Eye Doctor

We all want to find the best eye doctor to care and treat for our eyes but with the number of eye doctors today it can be quite a challenge to find the best one. For starters, you can take advantage of search engine sites and look for eye doctors with the highest ratings in your location. Research and review their websites and check to see testimonials their previous patients have left if there are any. Usually, happy customers are willing to provide feedback to show their satisfaction and appreciation. So, if you can find these on their site or on their social media pages, then at least you’ll have an idea about their track record and performance. Asking for referrals from friend and families help too.