Ophthalmologists and Optometrists: Similarities and Differences

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The three main types of eye care professionals are ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are both involved with the examination of healthy eyes and the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases.

Opticians are trained in filling prescriptions for eyeglasses and determine the proper eyeglass frames and adjust frames for proper fit. In some states, opticians may be licensed to fit contact lenses. Opticians often work closely within the same practice as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, or an optician may have an independent practice.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who is specialized in eye and vision care. In order to become an ophthalmologist, acquisition of an M.D. or a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degree is necessary following the completion of college. After 4 years of medical school and a year of internship in general medicine, every ophthalmologist spends a minimum of 3 years in a university and hospital-based residency specializing in ophthalmology. During residency, the eye M.D. receives special training in all aspects of eye care, including prevention, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions and diseases.

Ophthalmologists are trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses to performing complex and delicate eye surgery. They may also be involved in research about eye diseases and treatments. Some ophthalmologists will acquire additional fellowship training in a subspecialty area of ophthalmology, such as retina, cornea, glaucoma, pediatrics, oculoplastics, refractive surgery, uveitis, pathology, or neuro-ophthalmology.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014