Optometrist vs. Optician vs. Ophthalmologist
What’s the Difference, and Why You Should Know
Here’s a question any eye care professional hears frequently: what’s the difference between an optometrist, an optician, and an ophthalmologist? And, more practically, which one should you be seeing?
Our Poudre Valley staff often answers this question for our patients. We’d like to help set the record straight.
Optometrist vs. Optician vs. Ophthalmologist: What’s the difference?
In short, here are the definitions of each of these kinds of vision care professionals:
- An optometrist is a vision care and eye doctor who handles routine eye exams, prescribes corrective lenses, and addresses other vision problems.
- An optician specializes in corrective lenses, such as glasses and contacts.
- An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who can perform eye-related medical and surgical procedures, as well as addressing general medical issues.
But of course, there’s more to it than just these basic definition. All of these roles are held by health care professionals who work in the field of vision and eye care.
Want more detail on each of these roles? Want to know who you should see for help with routine checkups, vision therapy, eye diseases, eye and vision care, and more? Here, we’re going to break down the definitions of who these different eye doctors are and what they do. We’ll also take a look at where they overlap, where they differ, and when you would see each. We hope it’s a helpful resource for you as you look for eye care and vision providers.
What is an optometrist?
An optometrist provides primary vision care and eye care. For many people, an optometrist is the main person they will see for regular vision and eye health checkups.
How does someone become an optometrist?
After earning an undergraduate degree, all optometrists must earn a doctor of optometry degree from a four-year, professional doctorate program. After completing optometry school, many optometrists also will do a residency, especially if they are focusing on a specialty.
Optometrists must maintain their license through ongoing education. They can also choose to become board-certified by the American Board of Optometry.
Who should see an optometrist?
You should see an optometrist if:
- You are looking for a routine eye exam
- You need eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, or contact lenses
- You are experiencing vision problems
- You have sudden vision changes, which can be a sign of diabetes mellitus, macular degeneration, and other issues
An optometrist can:
- Give you regular eye exams and vision tests
- Prescribe glasses or contact lenses to correct vision problems
- Diagnose and treat eye diseases and vision issues
If you are unsure which kinds of eye doctors you should see, you should start by checking in with your optometrist (or finding a new one if you don’t currently have an eyecare health provider). Optometrists can handle many sight-related services. If you need additional services, they can also refer you to the right optician, ophthalmologist, or health professional for the care you need. In short: if they can’t help you, they certainly know who can.
How optometrists differ from opticians and ophthalmologists
Unlike opticians, who focus on creating, fitting, and dispensing corrective lenses, optometrists can perform general vision exams and give prescriptions for vision correction. And unlike ophthalmologists, they cannot perform eye surgery or practice medicine more generally.
What is an optician?
An optician specializes in corrective lenses, focusing on both contact lenses and eyeglasses.
According to the Opticians Association of America, a professional organization for the field of opticianry, an optician can “make and supply eyeglasses and contact lenses” for vision correction.
Who should see an optician?
You should call your local optician if:
- You need eyeglasses or contact lenses
- You have a prescription for eyeglass lenses or contacts from an optometrist or ophthalmologist
How opticians differ from optometrists and ophthalmologists
Opticians are specifically focused on providing glasses and contacts. They do not perform regular eye exams or perform surgery.
Many opticians work with optometrists as part of one practice in order to provide specialized service for patients who require glasses or contacts. Here at Poudre Valley Eyecare, for example, we have both optometrists and opticians on our staff to serve our patients well.
What is an ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor who can perform medical and surgical procedures on the eyes. Becoming an ophthalmologist requires long years of education and training; according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it takes between 12 and 14 years to gain an ophthalmology license. This long period of training is necessary to develop the skills to handle delicate surgical procedures on the eyes, as well as to practice medicine more generally.
Who should see an ophthalmologist?
You should see an ophthalmologist if:
- You have been referred to see one by your optometrist or optician for eye surgery
- You require medical and surgical treatment for a vision or eye problem
- You have a complex condition that requires a specialist
However, some ophthalmologists also perform routine eye exams, dispense eyeglasses prescriptions, and provide other regular services. You can see an ophthalmologist for any service you would also see an optometrist for.
How ophthalmologists Differ from opticians and optometrists
Unlike an optometrist or an optician, ophthalmologists are medical doctors. They have been to medical school, as opposed to optometry school. An ophthalmologist performs eye surgery when needed.
They are licensed more generally to practice medicine as well. Having this whole-body training is often very valuable, as eye health is closely related to certain other conditions in the body.
Like many optometry offices, Poudre Valley Eyecare does not have an ophthalmologist on staff. Instead, we refer patients who need eye surgery to trusted local offices, such as the Eye Center of Northern Colorado.
How to find an eye care professional you can trust
If you’re looking to get an eye exam or find a new vision care professional in your area, there are a few strategies you can use to find a qualified provider.
A few approaches you may want to try:
- Looking for providers with positive reviews on business review sites, local social media groups, and search results.
- Asking for recommendations from friends, neighbors, and colleagues who live in your area.
- Reviewing potential doctors to see if they are up to date with industry certifications and professional development.
- Looking for board-certified providers who stay up to date with the latest advances in the field.
Eyecare professionals in Poudre Valley
Looking for an optometrist, optician or eye doctor in Fort Collins? We know it can be daunting to find the right fit, and we’re here for you!
Book an appointment now with our friendly staff. We’re happy to talk though any questions or concerns you may have and help you find the right eyecare professional for your needs.