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Optometrist and Ophthalmologist: What's the Difference?

A lot of people want to know if they should go see an eye doctor and which kind of doctor they should see. Generally, people can be screened at an optometrist's office for glasses, vision and to check for basic problems. When people visit an ophthalmologist, they can be checked for the same things as well as more advanced problems such as a cataract or glaucoma, or anything else that may be significantly wrong with the eye.

What's an optometrist?

There are many differences and similarities between optometrists and ophthalmologists. Optometrists are trained to provide routine eye care, such as exams and prescriptions for glasses and contacts, but they are not considered medical doctors. Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes. However, an optometrists is not a medical doctor. An optometrist receives a doctor of optometry degree after completing four years of optometry school, preceded by three years or more of college. They are licensed to practice optometry, which primarily involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases. Optometrists determine visual acuity and prescribe spectacles, contact lenses and eye exercises. Optometrists may perform all services listed under the definition of an optician. 

What's an ophthalmologist? 

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors educated and trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, including the treatment of a wide array of diseases. They can also perform complicated surgical procedures. Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists mainly when it comes to their level of training, and in what they can diagnose and treat. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that have completed college and at least eight years of additional medical training. Many ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research around the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision disorders. An ophthalmologist specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system, as well as the prevention of eye disease and injury. They treat and manage all eye and visual systems and are licensed by a state regulatory board to practice medicine as well as surgery.

State legalities and regulations 

While providing treatment for eye impairments falls under the responsibility of an ophthalmologist, some states permit optometrists to give limited treatments of certain eye conditions. Muddying the waters between the two, is the push for optometrists in several states to expand their scope of practice to include various procedures that are currently limited to ophthalmologists. Certain states have already passed laws allowing optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures, administer injections, and provide more prescriptions.

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists play key roles in the profession of optometry. For more serious eye complications, see an ophthalmologist.