Types of Physicians
Choosing an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, or Optician
There are three primary types of specialization that a vision care professional may be certified in. Let’s take a closer look at each and describe the differences between ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians.
An ophthalmologist is a physician – a doctor of medicine (MD) or osteopathy (DO) – who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and in the prevention of eye disease and injury. An ophthalmologist has completed four or more years of college premedical education, four or more years of medical school, one year of internship and three or more years of specialized medical and surgical and refractive training and experience in eye care.
An ophthalmologist is licensed by a state regulatory board to practice medicine and surgery, and is medically trained to deliver total eye care: primary, secondary and tertiary (i.e., vision services, contact lenses, eye examinations, medical eye care and surgical eye care), diagnose general diseases of the body, and treat ocular manifestations of systemic diseases.
Doctors of optometry (OD) are independent primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye, as well as diagnose related systemic conditions.
They examine the internal and external structure of the eyes to diagnose eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and retinal disorders; systemic diseases like hypertension and diabetes; and vision conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia. Optometrists also do testing to determine the patient’s ability to focus and coordinate the eyes, and to judge depth and see colors accurately.
Optometrists prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, low vision aids, vision therapy and medicines to treat eye diseases. As primary eye care providers, they are an integral part of the health care team.
Opticians adjust and fit optical products such as eyeglasses. Some have no formal background in opticianry. Instead, their training may be informal, on-the-job or formal apprenticeship. Others have college-level training in opticianry.
New York state licenses dispensing opticians and allows graduates to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation.
Dispensing opticians may also gain credentials through voluntary certification or registration by the American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners. Certification must be renewed every three years through continuing education.