To be licensed, optometrists must earn a Doctor of Optometry
degree from an accredited optometry school and pass a written
National Board exam and a clinical examination.
Employment is expected to grow faster than average in response
to the vision care needs of a growing and aging population.
Nature of the Work
Optometrists, also known as doctors of optometry,
or ODs, provide most primary vision care. They examine
people’s eyes to diagnose vision problems and eye diseases,
and they test patients’ visual acuity, depth and color perception,
and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Optometrists
prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses and provide vision
therapy and low-vision rehabilitation. Optometrists analyze
test results and develop a treatment plan. They administer
drugs to patients to aid in the diagnosis of vision problems
and prescribe drugs to treat some eye diseases. Optometrists
often provide preoperative and postoperative care to cataract
patients, as well as to patients who have had laser vision
correction or other eye surgery. They also diagnose conditions
caused by systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood
pressure, referring patients to other health practitioners
Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists
or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are
physicians who perform eye surgery, as well as diagnose and
treat eye diseases and injuries. Like optometrists, they also
examine eyes and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Dispensing opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and,
in some States, may fit contact lenses according to prescriptions
written by ophthalmologists or optometrists.
Most optometrists are in general practice. Some specialize
in work with the elderly, children, or partially sighted persons
who need specialized visual devices. Others develop and implement
ways to protect workers’ eyes from on-the-job strain or injury.
Some specialize in contact lenses, sports vision, or vision
therapy. A few teach optometry, perform research, or consult.
Most optometrists are private practitioners who also handle
the business aspects of running an office, such as developing
a patient base, hiring employees, keeping paper and electronic
records, and ordering equipment and supplies. Optometrists
who operate franchise optical stores also may have some of
Optometrists work in places—usually their own offices—that
are clean, well lighted, and comfortable. Most full-time optometrists
work about 40 hours a week. Many work weekends and evenings
to suit the needs of patients. Emergency calls, once uncommon,
have increased with the passage of therapeutic-drug laws expanding
optometrists’ ability to prescribe medications.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All States and the District of Columbia require that optometrists
be licensed. Applicants for a license must have a Doctor of
Optometry degree from an accredited optometry school and must
pass both a written National Board examination and a National,
regional, or State clinical board examination. The written
and clinical examinations of the National Board of Examiners
in Optometry usually are taken during the student’s academic
career. Many States also require applicants to pass an examination
on relevant State laws. Licenses are renewed every 1 to 3
years and, in all States, continuing education credits are
needed for renewal.
The Doctor of Optometry degree requires the completion of
a 4-year program at an accredited optometry school, preceded
by at least 3 years of preoptometric study at an accredited
college or university. Most optometry students hold a bachelor’s
or higher degree. In 2004, 17 U.S. schools and colleges of
optometry offered programs accredited by the Accreditation
Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric
Requirements for admission to schools of optometry include
courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.
A few schools also require or recommend courses in psychology,
history, sociology, speech, or business. Because a strong
background in science is important, many applicants to optometry
school major in a science such as biology or chemistry, while
other applicants major in another subject and take many science
courses offering laboratory experience. Applicants must take
the Optometry Admissions Test, which measures academic ability
and scientific comprehension. Admission to optometry school
is competitive. As a result, most applicants take the test
after their sophomore or junior year, allowing them an opportunity
to take the test again and raise their score. A few applicants
are accepted to optometry school after 3 years of college
and complete their bachelor’s degree while attending optometry
Optometry programs include classroom and laboratory study
of health and visual sciences, as well as clinical training
in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders. Courses in
pharmacology, optics, vision science, biochemistry, and systemic
disease are included.
Business ability, self-discipline, and the ability to deal
tactfully with patients are important for success. The work
of optometrists requires attention to detail and manual dexterity.
Optometrists wishing to teach or conduct research may study
for a master’s or Ph.D. degree in visual science, physiological
optics, neurophysiology, public health, health administration,
health information and communication, or health education.
One-year postgraduate clinical residency programs are available
for optometrists who wish to obtain advanced clinical competence.
Specialty areas for residency programs include family practice
optometry, pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, vision
therapy and rehabilitation, low-vision rehabilitation, cornea
and contact lenses, refractive and ocular surgery, primary
eye care optometry, and ocular disease.
Optometrists held about 34,000 jobs in 2004. The number of
jobs is greater than the number of practicing optometrists
because some optometrists hold two or more jobs. For example,
an optometrist may have a private practice but also work in
another practice, in a clinic, or in a vision care center.
According to the American Optometric Association, about three-fourths
of practicing optometrists are in private practice. Although
many practice alone, optometrists increasingly are in a partnership
or group practice.
Salaried jobs for optometrists were primarily in offices
of optometrists; offices of physicians, including ophthalmologists;
and health and personal care stores, including optical goods
stores. A few salaried jobs for optometrists were in hospitals,
the Federal government, or outpatient care centers including
health maintenance organizations. Almost one third of optometrists
were self-employed and not incorporated.
Employment of optometrists is expected to grow faster than
average for all occupations through 2014, in response to the
vision care needs of a growing and aging population. As baby
boomers age, they will be more likely to visit optometrists
and ophthalmologists because of the onset of vision problems
in middle age, including those resulting from the extensive
use of computers. The demand for optometric services also
will increase because of growth in the oldest age group, with
its increased likelihood of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes,
and hypertension. Greater recognition of the importance of
vision care, along with rising personal incomes and growth
in employee vision care plans, also will spur job growth.
Employment of optometrists would grow more rapidly were it
not for anticipated productivity gains that will allow each
optometrist to see more patients. These expected gains stem
from greater use of optometric assistants and other support
personnel, who will reduce the amount of time optometrists
need with each patient. Also, laser surgery that can correct
some vision problems is available, and although optometrists
still will be needed to provide preoperative and postoperative
care for laser surgery patients, patients who successfully
undergo this surgery may not require optometrists to prescribe
glasses or contacts for several years.
In addition to growth, the need to replace optometrists who
retire or leave the occupation for another reason will create
Median annual earnings of salaried optometrists were $88,410
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $63,840
and $118,320. Median annual earnings of salaried optometrists
in May 2004 were $87,430 in offices of optometrists. Salaried
optometrists tend to earn more initially than do optometrists
who set up their own practices. In the long run, however,
those in private practice usually earn more.
According to the American Optometric Association, median
net annual income for all optometrists, including the self-employed,
was $114,000 in 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$84,000 and $166,000.