Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage disorders of the visual system, eye diseases, and injuries. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.
Optometrists typically do the following:
- Perform vision tests and analyze results
- Diagnose sight problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness and eye diseases, such as glaucoma
- Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and medications
- Provide treatments such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation
- Provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing eye surgery—for example, examining a patient’s eyes the day after surgery
- Evaluate patients for the presence of diseases such as diabetes and refer patients to other healthcare providers as needed
- Promote eye health by counseling patients, including explaining how to clean and wear contact lenses
Some optometrists spend much of their time providing specialized care, particularly if they are working in a group practice with other optometrists or physicians. For example, some optometrists mostly treat patients with only partial sight, a condition known as low vision. Others may focus on treating infants and children.
Many optometrists own their practice and may spend more time on general business activities such as hiring employees, ordering supplies, and marketing their business.
Optometrists also may work as postsecondary teachers, do research in optometry colleges, or work as consultants in the eye care industry.
Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and treat eye disease in addition to examining eyes and prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. For more information on ophthalmologists, see the physicians and surgeons profile. Dispensing opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, fill contact lens prescriptions that an optometrist or ophthalmologist has written.
Optometrists held about 33,100 jobs in 2012. About 53 percent of optometrists worked in stand-alone offices of optometry. Optometrists may also work in doctors’ offices, retail stores, and outpatient clinics. About 11 percent of optometrists were self-employed in 2012.
The industries that employed the most optometrists in 2012 were as follows:
|Offices of optometrists||53%|
|Offices of physicians||18|
|Health and personal care stores||11|
|Outpatient care centers||2|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||2|
Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.
Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering an O.D. program.
Optometrists need a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. In 2012, there were 17 accredited Doctor of Optometry programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico. An additional 4 programs have received preliminary approval.
Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education, including coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. However, most students get a bachelor’s degree before enrolling in a Doctor of Optometry program.
Applicants must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) to apply to O.D. programs. The OAT is a computerized exam that tests applicants on four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.
Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, and visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.
After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in an area of emphasis. Areas of emphasis for residency programs include family practice, low vision care, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.
Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on law. All states require optometrists to take continuing education and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.
Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become certified by the American Board of Optometry.
Decision-making skills. Optometrists must be able to evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.
Interpersonal skills. Because they spend much of their time examining patients, optometrists must be able to help their patients feel at ease.
Speaking skills. Optometrists must be able to clearly explain eyecare instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.
The median annual wage for optometrists was $97,820 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,590, and the top 10 percent earned more than $184,530.
Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ needs.
Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 8,100 new jobs over the 10-year period.
Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will require more optometrists. As people age, they become more susceptible to conditions that impair vision, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
The number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has grown in recent years. Diabetes has been linked to increased rates of several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects the blood vessels in the eye and may lead to vision loss. More optometrists will be needed to monitor, treat, and refer individuals with these chronic conditions.
In addition, an increasing number of insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, provide some vision or eye care insurance coverage. Furthermore, the number of individuals, particularly children, who have vision or eye care insurance will increase as a result of federal health insurance reform legislation. More optometrists will be needed in order to provide services to more patients.
Because the number of optometrists is limited by the number of accredited optometry schools, licensed optometrists should expect good job prospects. Like admission to professional degree programs in other fields, admission to optometry programs is highly competitive.
Students who choose to complete a residency program gain additional experience that may improve their job prospects. Certification from the American Board of Optometry may also be viewed favorably by employers.
In addition, a large number of currently practicing optometrists are expected to retire over the coming decade, creating opportunities for new optometrists.
For more information about optometry, visit
For more information about optometrists, including a list of accredited optometric programs, visit
For information on specific admission requirements and sources of financial aid, contact the admissions officers of individual optometry schools.
For more information about the national board exam, visit
For more information about certification, visit