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How Do I Choose an Eye Doctor?

There are many choices when choosing an eye specialist and of course it is easy to confuse the names of the eye doctors because they all start with the letter "O".  Below is the job description and education profile of each eye specialist.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a physician who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system and in the prevention of eye disease and injury. They provide a full spectrum of care including routine eye exams, diagnosis and medical treatment of eye disorders and diseases, prescriptions for eyeglasses, surgery, and management of eye problems that are caused by systemic illnesses. Ophthalmologists can be medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy (D.O.).
Education
After completing 4 years of undergraduate study at a college or university, ophthalmologists attend 4 years of medical school to obtain an M.D. or D.O. degree. After graduating from medical school, they complete a 1-year internship and 3 years of training in ophthalmology in a residency program approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Following residency, ophthalmologists may enroll in a 1- to 2-year fellowship program.

What is an Optometrist?

Optometrists, also called doctors of optometry (O.D.) diagnose and treat vision problems, eye diseases and related conditions, and prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and medications to treat eye disorders. They cannot perform surgery, but they often provide patients with pre- and postsurgical care. Sometimes ophthalmologists and optometrists work in the same practice and co-manage patients.
Education
Optometrists must complete at least 3 years of study at an accredited college or university before beginning optometry training; however, most optometry students have a bachelor's degree or higher.
Next, they must attend an accredited 4-year optometry school and, after graduation, they must pass written and clinical state board examinations. Some optometrists go on to obtain a master's degree or Ph.D. in visual science, physiological optics, neurophysiology, or public health.

What is an Optician?

A dispensing optician fits eyeglasses and, in some states, contact lenses. They analyze and interpret prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists to determine which eyeglasses or contact lenses are best suited to the patient's lifestyle and visual needs.
The optician takes eye measurements to insure proper lens placement in the eyeglasses' frame and verifies the accuracy of the finished product. She or he also may manufacture (grind) lenses from raw materials and cut them to fit into the frame. Before designing contact lenses, the optician evaluates the patient's eyes under a special microscope and measures the curvature of the eye. The optician instructs the patient in the care and handling of contact lenses.
Opticians may hold an associate opticianry degree or may have apprenticed for a required number of hours.

What is an Orthoptist?

Orthoptists are key members of a team whose goal is to provide evaluation, understanding, and treatment to children and adults with disorders affecting visual function.
  The focus of orthoptics is the evaluation and non-surgical treatment of disorders of vision, eye movements, and eye alignment. Orthoptics combine diagnostic ability, technical understanding and therapeutic skills. Orthoptists are actively involved in the decision-making for patient care. By choosing various test procedures, the orthoptist formulates a statement of impressions including a differential diagnosis and possible modes of non-surgical treatment.
   To maintain certification an orthoptist must remain in good standing as outlined in the Code of Ethics determined by the American Orthoptic Council and accrue the required number of approved continuing education credits.