Should You See an Ophthalmologist or an Optometrist?

Here at Eye Care Institute, we are privileged to employ both a skilled Optometrist as well as a number of Ophthalmologists to meet your eye health needs.  Many people are not aware of the breadth of services that can be provided by an Optometrist.  We hope this guide will help you to make the decision on how you can be seen most quickly and appropriately for your eye health.

The following information has been extracted from the ”All About Vision” website to assist you in your decision making.

Optometrist vs. ophthalmologist

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist is an eye doctor who has earned the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and specializes in eye and vision care. To become an optometrist in the United States, a candidate typically must earn a four-year college degree in the sciences and then attend an accredited school or college of optometry and obtain a four-year OD doctorate degree.  Some optometrists also choose to complete a residency or an advanced degree in a specific area of practice.

An optometrist is like a primary care physician for the eyes.  Their goal is to help patients see clearly and care for minor problems that come up along the way.  Like a primary doctor, they will refer a patient to a specialist if a problem is outside of their range of care.

Most optometrists provide the following services:

  • Perform routine as well as comprehensive eye exams
  • Diagnoses, treats and manages vision problems
  • Diagnoses, treats, and manages eye infections and other common eye health problems
  • Prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • Perform contact lens fittings and follow-up exams

In addition, optometrists work to:

  • Perform eye exams before and after cataract surgery and LASIK
  • Provide low vision exams and services
  • Prescribe and supervise vision therapy

With few exceptions, optometrist eye doctors are not trained or licensed to perform eye or vision surgery.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care, including providing medical care and surgery for management of eye and vision problems.

To become an ophthalmologist in the United States, a candidate typically must:

  • Earn a four-year college degree in the sciences
  • Attend medical school and earn a four-year doctorate degree to become a physician (MD or DO)
  • Complete a one-year internship
  • Complete a three-year residency in the medical and surgical care of the eye

An ophthalmologist can provide all the services an optometrist (OD) provides, and:

  • Has more comprehensive training in the medical care and management of eye health problems
  • Is trained and licensed to perform eye and vision surgery
  • May specialize in the medical and surgical treatment of a specific eye disease (e.g., glaucoma) or part of the eye (e.g., retina)
Degree OD (Doctor of Optometry) MD (Doctor of Medicine)
Education College-4 yrs
Optometry school-4 yrs
College-4 yrs
Medical School-4 yrs
Internship-1 yr
Residency-3 yrs
Performs Routine eye exams
X
X
Diagnose, treat & manage eye infections and other common eye health problems
X
X
Prescribes glasses & contact lenses
X
X
Prescribes medications
X
X
Prescribes vision therapy
X
X
Performs eye surgery
X
Performs vision correction surgery
X

Which eye doctor to choose

For routine eye exams and contact lens fittings, as well as diagnosing many eye conditions, it can make sense to see an optometrist.  You may experience a lengthier wait to see an ophthalmologist, as their schedules are filled with patients with surgical needs.  If your condition does require oversight and care by an ophthalmologist, our optometrist will refer you to the most appropriate surgeon for your condition.

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