Optometry as a Career

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As a doctor of optometry, you are trained to provide vision care by examining people's eyes to diagnose vision problems (such as near- or farsightedness, astigmatism, presbyopia), test depth and color perception, and determine the ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. You may also prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses, and prescribe or provide vision therapy, low-vision rehabilitation, or other treatments. In addition, you test for glaucoma and other eye diseases, diagnose other health conditions and refer patients to those practitioners, and provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing surgery for cataracts, laser vision correction, or other eye conditions.

Your education as an optometrist includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical training in geometric, physical, physiological and opthalmic optics, ocular anatomy, ocular disease, ocular mytology, ocular pharmacology, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the vision system, color, form, space, movement and vision perception, design and modification of the visual environment, vision performance, and vision screening. The curriculum at many professional schools of optometry incorporates clinical rotations in settings that may include military facilities, Veterans Administration hospitals, public health service hospitals, and specialty or private practices or clinics. To be well prepared for entry into optometry school, you should complete an undergraduate degree that includes courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.

Most optometrists are general practitioners in private practice. As such, you 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. Even if you operate a franchise optical store, you may have some of the same responsibilities. You may also choose to specialize by pursuing a one-year postgraduate residency program in areas such as 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, or ocular disease. Licensure is required for professional practice.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects opportunities for optometrists to grow by 18 percent through 2026, a rate much faster than average for all occupations. New and replacement professionals are needed as more people recognize the value of good eye care, as we deal with the effects on vision of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, as more health insurance plans cover vision care, and as older optometrists retire. The demand for optometrists will also grow with our rising population of older Americans increasingly plagued by vision problems, including cataracts and glaucoma.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA):

  • Unique to the educational requirements for optometrists is the advanced study of optics, the science of light and vision, and extensive training in lens design, construction, application, and fitting.
  • Optometrists work in private practices, multidisciplinary medical practices, hospitals, teaching institutions, research, community health centers, and the opthalmic industry.
  • Optometrists can also build successful careers in the military, public health, or government service.
  • Optometrists of all types are needed, particularly those who specialize in pediatric and gerontological optometry.
  • Practice opportunities exist throughout the United States, with a special need in rural areas.

If you are excited about science, especially the study of optics, light, and vision; possess good manual dexterity, self-discipline, and a good business sense; are detail oriented; enjoy helping people see better; can communicate clearly, tactfully, and compassionately, a career in optometry may be just right for you.

Sources: American Optometric Association; US Bureau of Labor Occupational Outlook Quarterly; http://ExploreHealthCareers.org 

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