What Degree is Needed to Become an Optometrist?

OptometristIf the idea of becoming an eye doctor interests you, then you may be wondering about the kind of degree needed to become an optometrist. With an aging population more prone to vision issues, the United States is seeing a surge in the need for healthcare professionals who specialize in eye health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an almost 25 percent growth in employment opportunities for optometrists, which means earning your Doctor of Optometry degree can open the door to a lucrative, in-demand profession.

What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry who delivers primary health care for the eyes. As the American Optometric Association explains, they are state-licensed professionals who do much more than write prescriptions for eyeglasses or contacts. They examine, diagnose and advise their patients on surgical and nonsurgical treatment options for a broad range of disorders, diseases and injuries to the eye, the visual system, and even systemic conditions that affect the eye like diabetes and hypertension. Optometrists do write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contacts; they also prescribe medications, therapies and rehabilitations. Some even perform certain types of eye surgeries, although they will generally refer patients needing surgery to ophthalmologists.

How is an Optometrist Different from an Optician or an Ophthalmologist?

While an optician assists an eye doctor, they are not doctors themselves. Opticians fill prescriptions for glasses or contacts written by eye doctors. In some states, they must be licensed, but many states have no formal qualifications for opticians. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who have chosen to specialize in the eye. While optometrists attend special optometry schools and provide primary care for their patients’ eyes, ophthalmologists actually attend medical school and complete residencies and are thus able to offer more advanced care and perform surgery.

What is Involved in Earning a Doctor of Optometry Degree?

In order to earn a Doctor of Optometry degree, student must complete a rigorous four-year degree program at one of the nation’s roughly two dozen schools of optometry. While the schools each have their own requirements for admission, most insist that applicants have already completed a bachelor’s degree first. According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, advisors recommend consulting the specific requirements for your desired optometry school for information on what kind of undergraduate coursework is necessary; it typically should include pre-professional level science courses with lab work that are designed for health or science majors, college-level mathematics and a sampling of humanities courses. After earning their bachelor’s degrees and their doctor of optometry degrees, graduates must also complete the requirements for licensure in the state in which they plan to practice. In order to remain current with the developments in the field and keep their licenses, optometrists should also plan on continuing to take educational courses throughout their careers.

Where Does an Optometrist Work?

Although some optometrists work in hospitals, clinics and retail stores, the majority work in independent offices. While some evening and weekend hours may be required in order to meet the scheduling needs of prospective patients, the average optometrist works around 40 hours a week and earns about $100,000 each year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Related Resource: Best Undergraduate Degree for Medical School

The nation’s shifting demographics are driving growth in virtually all fields of healthcare, and optometry is no exception. Earning a Doctor of Optometry degree, the degree needed to become an optometrist, allows talented people to join the ranks of this lucrative profession and provide much needed care to their communities.