Eye Doctors: Optometrists and Ophthalmologists

There are two main types of eye doctors: ophthalmologists and optometrists. Confused about which is which and who does what? Here's an outline of the differences between eye doctors.

Ophthalmologist: Total Eye Care

Ophthalmologists are physicians. They went to medical school. After medical school, they had a one-year internship and a residency of three or more years.

Ophthalmologists offer complete eye care services. These include:

  • Medical eye care -- for conditions such as glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns
  • Diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions related to other diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis

Optometrist (OD): Vision Care and Eye Care Services

Optometrists are medical professionals but not physicians who went to medical school. After college, they spent four years in a professional program and got a doctor of optometry degree. Some optometrists undergo additional clinical training after optometry school. They focus on regular vision care and prescribe eyeglasses and contacts. They:

  • Provide low vision aids and vision therapy
  • Prescribe medications for certain eye conditions (in some states)
  • Participate in pre- or post-operative care for people who need surgery

Optometrists and ophthalmologists may work together to take care of you.

Optician: Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses

Opticians are not eye doctors and cannot give eye exams. They get a one- or two-year degree, certificate, or diploma. They fill the prescription that your eye doctor gives you. They:

  • Evaluate lens prescriptions
  • Take facial measurements
  • Help decide which type of lenses and frame will work best

Choosing an Eye Doctor

When it comes to eye doctors, one type is not automatically better than the other. The right choice depends on your needs. The best eye doctor for you should:

  • Be recommended by your doctor, friends, or family
  • Be appropriate to your vision problems; if you need routine eyeglass/contact lens care you have many choices. If you have a specific medical eye condition, you may want to choose an ophthalmologist.
  • Be someone you like and trust
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on October 03, 2015



American Academy of Ophthalmology Medical Library (Medem) web site: "Eye Care Facts and Myths: A Closer Look."

Cleveland Clinic web site: "Eye Care Specialists."

Prevent Blindness America web site: "Who's Who in Eye Care."

About.com web site: "Eye Doctors and Cosmetic Surgery."

Horizon BCBSNJ web site: "Making Healthcare Work: Glossary."

Vision Channel web site: "What Is an Optometrist?"

All About Vision web site: "Find an Eye Doctor - Optometrist or M.D."

All Allied Health Schools web site: "Become an Optician: Optician Jobs, Optician Schools."

About.Com web site: "Finding the Right Eye Doctor."

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "eyeSmart: Know Your Eyecare Team."

Prevent Blindness America: "Who's Who in Eyecare?"

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