Opticians, Optometrists, and Ophthalmologists are all names for people who work in the eye care business. Since their names and jobs seem similar, it can be confusing to know what each one is and what they do. The biggest difference between the three is the amount of schooling that they attend, and what the state will allow each one to do.
Opticians are who you will likely have the most contact with. They assist in helping you choose the best frames and lenses for your glasses. Opticians can have a varying degree of schooling, either in the field of glasses, or in other fields like business. There is no required degree needed for this profession, but there is a lot of things that must be learned before someone becomes proficient at this job.
Optometrists are doctors who have gone to eight years of college. They start out with an undergraduate degree, usually in biology or other sciences. After that, they will go to a dedicated optometry school for another four years to get their doctorate (O.D.). In optometry school, they learn about not only the eyes, but many other things in the body that can affect the eyes. They are required to have a certain number of hours in pharmacology to allow them to prescribe medications to treat diseases. After their eight years, some decide to go onto a residency program for another year to learn more about a particular field in optometry, like contact lenses, or ocular diseases. Optometrists are doctors who can treat and manage most eye disease including glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic exams, and eye infections. Optometrists are not allowed to do surgeries, like cataracts or LASIK.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who can perform surgery on the eye. They also start out at an undergraduate school for four years to get a degree, usually in sciences like biology. They then go onto medical school for four years to become a Medical Doctor (M.D.). Once they are done with medical school, they go into a residency and internship program to specialize in their area of expertise for four more years. Ophthalmologists often specialize in particular areas of the eye, like the cornea, glaucoma, or the retina for another one or two years. The total schooling for ophthalmology is around 14 years. Not only are they are capable of doing everything that optometrists do, and they can also perform surgeries.
Often Optometrists and Ophthalmologists will work together for the best treatment of a patient. The optometrist can find things like cataracts, and will refer them to the ophthalmologist to have them removed. The ophthalmologist will remove the cataract, and often send them back to the optometrist for glasses and follow up care. This keeps costs down for the patient and keeps what is called continuity of care.