An optometrist, or doctor of optometry, is the primary provider of vision care. An optometrist can examine and diagnosis vision difficulties or diseases of the eye. They can test and prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses, and other medical treatments.
A majority of optometrists are considered primary care optometrists, but some choose to specialize. An optometry specialization can include geriatrics, pediatrics, or vision therapy.
The growth potential of the optometry field is considered promising. As the baby boomer generation ages, new optometrists will be needed to cover their eye care needs. Also, a large number of current optometrists will be retiring or shifting to less strenuous schedules as they age.
Optometrist Job Responsibilities
An optometrist typically works in a private practice setting. In addition to the medical care, they will be responsible for the business procedures of their practice. This can include advertisement and promotion of their services, customer service with the patients, maintaining medical records, and scheduling appointments. Optometrists working for franchises (such as Lenscrafters or Pearle Vision) may experience fewer or different duties.
Optometrists typically perform routine eye examinations and diagnose eye problems. For unusual diseases, an optometrist will refer a patient to a specialist. Optometrists can also dispense medication for common eye diseases. Some optometrists may offer pre and post operative care for eye surgeries such as cataracts or laser correction.
A small number of optometrists consult privately, research, or teach.
An optometrist is typically able to work in an office with standard hours. Nights and weekends may or may not be working hours, depending upon the preferences of the optometrist’s private practice. With the increase in the number of prescription drugs an optometrist can offer, the number of emergency calls about medication has risen. Some travel may be necessary in order to fulfill education requirements for license renewal.
Optometrist Training and Education Requirements
A Doctor of Optometry degree requires that an optometrist attend an accredited school of optometry and complete a 4 year program. This must be preceded by a minimum of 3 years of pre-optometric study at an accredited school or university. All states and the District of Columbia require that an optometrist be licensed in order to practice.
An accredited school of optometry must receive accreditation from the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association. Admission to an accredited school requires courses in biology, chemistry, English, mathematics, and physics. A strong background in science-related courses is important as well.
The competitive nature of optometry admissions means only about 1 in 3 applicants are admitted as of 2007. Applicants are required to take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT). The OAT covers primarily scientific topics, and consists of 4 tests. A survey of natural sciences, physics, quantitative reasoning, and reading comprehension make up the four parts. An aspiring optometrist should take the OAT following their sophomore or junior year. This will give them time to retake the OAT and attempt to raise their score if necessary. Due to the highly competitive admissions to accredited schools of optometry, a high OAT score will be needed.
For research or teaching, optometrists will need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in neurophysiology, physiological optics, vision science, or others.
All states and the District of Columbia require that an optometrist be licensed. An applicant must have a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited school of optometry, and then pass a written National Board examination and a local, state or regional, or national clinical examination. After receiving their license, it typically must be renewed every 1 to 3 years.
An optometrist should have a friendly and courteous manner. They will need to be able to provide excellent customer service to a variety of people when working. An optometrist will also need to understand small business finances if they are planning to work in a private practice. Medical billing and patient scheduling software knowledge will be helpful for beginning private practice optometrists.
Optometrist Salary and Wages
As of May 2008, the median salary for optometrists totaled $96,320. During this period of time, salaried optometrists tended to earn more during the first year of employment when compared to private practice optometrists. After the first year, private practice optometrists slowly began to earn more. Self-employed optometrists and those belonging to eye care group practices earned more than franchise optometrists.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Optometrists are not asked to hold certifications due to the rigorous nature of their licensing requirements. Licenses have a lifespan of 1 to 3 years and then must be renewed. In all states, attempting to renew a license typically requires education credits to prove an optometrist is up to date with new techniques or technology in the field.
Optometrist Professional Associations
The American Optometric Association (AOA) represents over 36,000 doctors of optometry, students, and related personnel such as paraoptometric assistants and technicians. In 3,500 locations across the nation, AOA members are the only providers of eye care for the area. First founded in 1898, the AOA is a federation of eye care professionals who are working to provide the latest in optometric techniques and technology for the public.
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