What is the Difference between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and an Optician?

The world of ‘eyes’ and ‘eye care’ can be confusing with a number of professionals advertising care but it is very important to know the difference and to seek care from the right eye care professional. Ophthalmologists, Optometrists and Opticians each play an important role in providing eye care but the levels of training and expertise are quite different for each type of provider. SoCal Eye in Long Beach is here to help provide guidance in choosing the right kind of care for your needs.  

Ophthalmologist – Medical Eye Doctor or Surgeon

An ophthalmologist — is a medical or osteopathic doctor or physician (M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in eye and vision care and surgery. Ophthalmologists have attended medical school and then opted for a specialty in Ophthalmology. This means that they have undergone a 3 year residency and perhaps a fellowship in the field.  Ophthalmologists are licensed by state medical boards to practice medicine and are usually board-certified in ophthalmology.

An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and prescribes drugs.  They can also prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems. Many ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research on the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision disorders.

An Ophthalmology subspecialist specializes in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care. The physician usually completes a 1 to 2 year fellowship in such subspecialty areas such as glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, neurology and oculoplastic. This added training and knowledge prepares an ophthalmologist to take care of more complex or specific conditions in certain areas of the eye or in certain groups of patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were approximately 11,000 active Ophthalmologists practicing in the United States in May 2021.

Optometrist – Doctors of Optometry

Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care and usually the first line of eyecare health professionals. An optometrist is not a medical doctor and has not graduated from medical school. An optometrist, however, receives a doctor of optometry (OD) degree after completing four years of optometry school in addition to an undergraduate degree. They are licensed to practice optometry by the state in which they practice.

Optometrists primarily perform comprehensive eye exams with a view to diagnosing common eye problems, prescribing corrective lenses, including contact lenses and treating minor eye injuries.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that there are over 38,000 optometrists practicing in the US in May 2021.

Opticians – Eyewear technicians.

Opticians are technicians trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight. They use prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists or optometrists, but do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction. Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were approximately 58,000 Opticians working  in the United States in May 2021.

The Patient Journey

When seeking the right eyecare professional it is important to recognize the differences between an Ophthalmologist, an Optometrist and an Optician.  In most cases the patient journey begins with a comprehensive eye exam at the local Optometrists office. If a diagnosis of a medical condition is made and treatment is necessary the Optometrist will refer the patient to an Ophthalmologist for further testing and treatment or surgery.  In the event that the Optometrist’s eye exam reveals the need for prescription of eye glasses or contact lenses, the patient can remain in the care of the Optometrist and engage an Optician for the final fitting of the eye glasses.

It is also very common for Primary Care Physicians to refer patients to Ophthalmologists in the event that an eye related condition is detected. 

SoCal Eye – Long Beach Ophthalmologists

SoCal Eye is one of the oldest, most established and most trusted ophthalmology groups in the nation. Operating out of 2 clinics in Long Beach and Los Alamitos. We provide a complete line of comprehensive eye care, including Cataract and implant surgery, LASIK and refractive surgery, and treatment for Glaucoma, Cornea conditions, Dry Eye, and Eyelids (Ptosis). We also offer facial cosmetic treatments and surgery.

Schedule an Appointment today at LAKEWOOD (562) 531-2020  | LOS ALAMITOS (562) 598-7728  or send us an Online Consultation Request

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(562) 531-2020

(562) 598-7728

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