Ophthalmologists vs. Optometrists – Differences and Similarities

Many people never realize that there are actually many different types of eye doctors and specialists. Each of these doctors does deal with eyes and with eye health, but their exact roles and duties are different. Understanding these differences is important because you want to be sure to see the right type of professional depending on your eye care needs.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that provides full eye care to the patient. This includes completing an eye exam and prescribing corrective lenses. The Ophthalmologist also diagnoses and treats complex eye diseases and performs surgery.

In some cases, an Ophthalmologist may limit his or her range of services. For example, some prefer to offer only basic eye care and to provide specific surgical procedures. In this case, they refer their patients to other ophthalmologists for additional procedures.

What is an Optometrist?

An Optometrist generally provides several of the same services as an Ophthalmologist. For example, the Optometrist may evaluate your vision, prescribe corrective lenses, and diagnose common eye disorders.

In some states, Optometrists are also allowed to treat specific eye diseases through drug therapy. For more complex eye problems, however, the Optometrist will refer you to an Ophthalmologist.

What Training is needed to be an Ophthalmologist?

In order to become an Ophthalmologist, a person must complete medical school and then complete additional training. This training generally takes four years to complete.

Many Ophthalmologists also undergo additional training in order to become specialized in a subcategory, such as anterior segments surgery, cataracts, corneas, eye trauma, glaucoma, neuro-opththalmology, ocular oncology, oculo-plastic surgery, ophthalmic pathology, pediatric ophthalmology, refractive surgery, retina, and immunology.

During the first four years of training after completing medical school, a person wishing to become an ophthalmologist first completes a year completing an internship in internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, or in a general transition year.

What Training is needed to be an Optometrist?

To become an Optometrist, it is necessary to complete optometry school, which is a four year graduate program. Those who complete this coursework receive a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. In addition, they must receive board certification in order to practice as Optometrists.

Why Should I See an Ophthalmologist?

If you require certain medical procedures to be completed on your eye, you must see an Ophthalmologist. Each state has its own regulations regarding what procedures an Optometrist can complete and which must be performed by an Ophthalmologist. Therefore, you may not have much of a choice when it comes to deciding whether to see an Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist for certain procedures.

On the other hand, there are some procedures that both an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist are legally permitted to perform. In these cases, some people feel more comfortable utilizing an Ophthalmologist because of their additional training in surgery and because of their specialization.

It is important to note, however, that any eye doctor who is legally qualified to perform certain procedures has adequately proven himself capable or successfully completing the procedure. In this case, it may be best to go with a doctor with a proven track record rather than credentials.

If an Ophthalmologist has Special Additional Training, Why Should I See an Optometrist?

Although an Ophthalmologist has specialized training in the area of surgery and is capable of performing eye exams, the American Optometric Association considers the Optometrist to be the “primary eye care providers.” In other words, Optometrists are meant to perform routine eye exams and to recognize potentially more serious eye problems.

They can then refer you to an Ophthalmologist for additional care, if necessary. In addition, Optometrists are specialists in determining lens prescriptions and, therefore, helping patients find glasses and contacts that are right for them. Of course, this is the primary reason most people visit the eye doctor.

If you think you may have a more serious visual problem, the Optometrist is well trained in being able to recognize these problems. In addition, there are many eye problems an Optometrist is capable of and legally allowed to treat. Having your problems treated by your Optometrist generally saves you money. In addition, it leaves the Ophthalmologist free to help those with more serious disorders requiring his or her specialized assistance.