Ophthalmologist vs Optometrist: Confusion Beyond the Spelling (part 1)
As you may or may not realize, the word “ophthalmologist” is misspelled in the title of this article. We did this purposely, after noting in a keyword search that every month nearly 1,400 people enter this misspelled term “opthalmologist vs optometrist” as they search for information on ophthalmology.
Our guess is that there’s probably more about ophthalmology that is confusing people, just as there is about optometry. In this two-part series, we’ll describe some subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the two professions.
Let’s start with accurate definition of each practice:
The American Optometric Association definition of optometrists reads: “Doctors of optometry are independent primary health care providers who are trained and state licensed to examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures as well as diagnose related systemic conditions.”
The American Academy of Ophthalmology definition of ophthalmologists reads: “Ophthalmologists are medical and osteopathic physicians who provide comprehensive eye care, including medical, surgical and optical care.”
Okay, those definitions are comprehensive – almost too comprehensive. There is a lot of overlap in the care each profession provides. Here are a couple nuances you should know about:
Optometrists are extensively trained in refraction and prescribing lenses.
An optometrist specializes in prescribing glasses and contact lenses. To prescribe eye glasses, an optometrist must complete a refraction to precisely measure a patient’s far-sightedness, near-sightedness, and/or astigmatism. A refraction should also include measurement of accommodative (focusing) and binocular (eye teaming) function.
Optometrists are highly trained in diagnosing, treating and preventing eye diseases that cause blindness.
To perform these tasks, an optometrist must have completed four years of education from an optometry school (after receiving an undergraduate degree). Optometry school includes four years of class and clinical course work in refraction, optics, ophthalmic optics (how glasses work) and contact lenses.
In addition, every optometry school curriculum includes many hours of course work in binocular function (how the two eyes work together) including consideration of binocular vision issues for prescribing glasses.
Ophthalmologist training in these areas in contrast is much less extensive, may be as minimal as two weeks, is less structured and varies greatly between residency programs.
For any visual issue related to glasses prescribing (or contact lenses), eye tracking, eye focusing and eye teaming, choose an optometrist for care.
Ophthalmologists are trained in surgeries and pathologies.
Ophthalmology residencies are a surgical residency, which means that the main area of emphasis in training is on performing surgeries on eyes to treat eye disease.
Optometrists are thoroughly trained in diagnosing ocular medical conditions. Their treatment involves prescribing medications up to the point of surgery.
For example if your eye is red and hurts, or if you have diabetes and need someone to examine your eyes to make sure they are healthy, then either an ophthalmologist or optometrist could help. If you get to the point that surgery is needed, then an ophthalmologist would be the one to perform the surgery.
Keep in mind that optometrists are an excellent unbiased source for referring patients to the best ophthalmologist to perform your eye surgery. Surgery is extremely serious, and you’ll want to find the ophthalmologist who specializes in the treatment you need.
In part two of this series, we’ll detail a big difference between developmental optometrists and ophthalmologists, and how we can effectively work together.
(Photo by toolstop)
Learn how undetected vision problems can impact a child's ability to learn. Download your free Vision and Learning Guide.
The Vision Therapy Center has helped over 2,000 people overcome vision problems since 1995, and has Wisconsin vision therapy offices in Brookfield and Madison.