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Differences Between Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, and Optician

A plain language explanation of the difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist, and optician.

ophthalmologist optometrist optician  
Ophthalmology, optometry, and opticianry are the three complimentary disciplines of eye care.  


An ophthalmologist is a physician (doctor of medicine, MD, or doctor of osteopathy, DO) who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system 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 a specialist who is qualified by lengthy medical education, training and experience to diagnose, treat and manage all eye and visual systems and is licensed by a state regulatory board to practice medicine and surgery. An ophthalmologist is a medically trained specialist who can 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 are independent primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures 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.

They prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, low vision aids, vision therapy and medicines to treat eye diseases.

As primary eye care providers, optometrists are an integral part of the health care team and an entry point into the health care system. They are skilled in the co-management of care that affects the eye health and vision of their patients and an excellent source of referral to other health care professionals.

In the state of Oklahoma, optometrists are able to perform non-incisional laser surgery including Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK).


Opticians adjust and fit optical products such as glasses. Some employers hire individuals with no background in opticianry. Training may be informal, on-the-job or formal apprenticeship. Others seek people with college level training in opticianry.

Formal opticianry training is offered in community colleges and a few colleges and universities. In 1993, there were about 40 programs. Of these, 23 were accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation and awarded 2-year associate degrees in ophthalmic dispensing or optometric technology. There are also shorter programs, including some less than 1 year. Some states that license dispensing opticians allow graduates to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation; others require a few months to a year of experience.

Dispensing opticians may also gain credentials through voluntary certification or registration by the American Board of Opticianry and by the National Contact Lens Examiners. Certification must be renewed every 3 years through continuing education.

Looking For Best Lasik Surgeon?

If you are ready to choose a doctor to be evaluated for conventional or custom wavefront Lasik, Bladeless Lasik, PRK, or any refractive surgery procedure, we recommend you consider a doctor who has been evaluated and certified by the USAEyes nonprofit organization. Locate a USAEyes Evaluated & Certified Lasik Doctor.

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