What is the difference between an Ophthalmologist & an Optometrist

Comparing Two Eye Doctors

What is the difference between an Ophthalmologist and an Optometrist? 

2 Tyoes of Eye Doctors:  Ophthalmologist & an Optometrist

2 Tyoes of Eye Doctors:  Ophthalmologist & an Optometrist

                Ophthalmologists and Optometrists are both considered eye doctors but take slightly different paths of training and education.  Both must meet the pre-requisites of a 4-year undergraduate bachelor’s degree, specialized testing, application processes, and interviews with schools.  Both types of eye doctors attend 4 years of additional medical education & training at an accredited University. Medical school and Optometry school are both very difficult programs to be accepted into. Each school will have different acceptance rates, process, and limits to the number of students accepted. 

An Ophthalmologist attends medical school, such as Emory University in Atlanta.  Medical school intensely prepares each student in a broad sense of human anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, biochemistry, and pathology which generally takes place during the first two years.  The 3rd and 4th years focus more on clinical rotations through different specialties. After the four years of medical training they are matched within a residency program that can take an additional 3 to 7 years at a teaching hospital.  Each medical school will vary from program to program and prepares medical students to work as medical doctors.  They are recognized with the title M.D. (Medical Degree) and are specialized in one field such as family medicine or even oncology.

An Optometrist attends an Optometry focused program at schools, such as University of Alabama in Birmingham.  During the first two years Optometry students also study human anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, biochemistry, and pathology.  Additional courses on optics and vision sciences are a focus because the Optometry program is focused on training doctoral students to work in the eye care field.  Clinicals generally start during the 2nd year.  During the clinical years, these future Optometrists, are performing eye exams in various settings either at the local school clinic or during their rotations.  All rotations are in clinical settings such as a hospital but are all focused on the eyes. 

The fine difference between the two eye doctors is the medical and/or surgical focus.  Optometrists and Ophthalmologists are both medically trained and have some crossover; however, Ophthalmologists are trained more on surgical procedures such as cataract surgery, corneal transplants, or Lasik procedures. More recently Optometrists are being trained on Lasik procedures even though currently they are not legally able to perform these surgeries without being overseen by an MD (except in Oklahoma & Kentucky).  Think of your Optometrist as you would your general practitioner of the eyes compared to an Oncologist who specializes in surgery pertaining cancer.  Your general practitioner may refer you to an Oncologist if he/she suspects cancer after an examination.  This is very similar for an Optometrist who may refer you to an Ophthalmologist who is also Retinal Specialist if he/she suspects any type of issues pertaining to the retina.  Some eye care centers will have both an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist that co-manage the same patients by referring patients back and forth.  MDs will also refer patients to other MDs when they need another specialist to give their diagnosis or utilize their surgical expertise such as an Oncologist of the Eyes. 

Both eye doctors can perform routine eye exams and diagnose medical conditions of the eyes. Ophthalmologist work more routinely in surgical situations. If you are in need of eye surgery or have severe complications of the eyes, then an Ophthalmologist may be your best choice for your eye exam.  An Optometrist works more routinely with general routine eye care and examinations.  If you need a routine eye exam, updated prescription for glasses or contacts then an Optometrist would be your best choice.  Your Optometrist can diagnose the eyes for any medical issues and even treat minor issues.  Both types of eye doctors now work very seamlessly in the field of eye care. 

Call us today with questions and to schedule your next appointment with either the Optometrist or Ophthalmologist. 


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