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optometrist

Optometrist – The A to Z of Allied Health

Optometrists are among several types of health professionals that care for eye health, primarily in the community setting. An optometrist is often the first port of call for people who experience any eye health or vision problems.

What does an optometrist do?

Optometrists are primary eye care specialists.

They conduct thorough eye health examinations to diagnose and manage acute and chronic eye disease and vision problems. Where they diagnose vision problems, optometrists can prescribe and fit vision corrective devices such as eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Optometrists can diagnose and manage a range of eye health conditions such as injuries, infections, allergies, or complications related to other health conditions (e.g., retinopathy due to diabetes). In these types of cases, (and depending on their country of registration) they may prescribe medications, perform minor surgeries (e.g., removing a foreign body), or refer their clients to other healthcare team members.

Optometrists also provide treatment for eye health problems including macular degeneration and glaucoma. They are skilled in the management of eyecare emergencies such as injuries and infections.

Some specialise in certain areas, such as geriatric optometry, paediatrics, low vision therapy, sports vision, neuro-optometry, and behavioural optometry.  Some may specialise in specific eye conditions or may choose to work in education and/or research.

Advantageous qualities and skills

Although optometrists focus specifically on eye health, they must possess a range of skills and qualities to perform their job effectively.

These include excellent verbal communication and listening skills, the ability to identify problems and use critical thinking skills to help solve these, and the willingness to refer clients or patients on to other healthcare professions when their condition requires a multidisciplinary team approach.

optometry

Where do optometrists work?

Optometrists work in countries all around the world, including the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, across Europe, Singapore, India, and many more.

They typically work in private clinics but may work in retail stores that prescribe and issue vision corrective devices, or in practices or hospitals with other eyecare professionals or physicians. They can also work in academic or research settings.

Professional education and regulatory frameworks

USA & Canada

In the USA and Canada, a Doctor of Optometry must be attained, usually in addition to a bachelor’s degree. Many will then go on to complete a one-year residency program to attain specialist optometry skills (e.g., in paediatrics or specific eye conditions).

Students in the USA must pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam in order to attain a licence to practice.

In Canada, optometrists are licensed by individual provinces and territories.

Australia

A Bachelor of Optometry (or equivalent) is required in Australia, followed by a Doctor of Optometry. This equates to approximately seven years of university education.

Optometrists are regulated nationally by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, students are currently required to gain a Bachelor of Optometry—this equates to five years of university education.

Optometrists are regulated by the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board, which is one of 21 health professions recognised under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act.

United Kingdom

In the UK, students must attain a Bachelor of Optometry Science (with Honours) and can choose to advance their knowledge and skills by undertaking a Master of Clinical Optometry.

Optometrists (or ophthalmic opticians) are regulated by the General Optical Council

India

In India, most optometrists hold a Bachelor of Optometry degree. This typically entails three years of academic study followed by a one-year internship.

Optometrists are self-regulated and registration with the Optometry Council of India is optional.

Workforce considerations

This is one of the few allied health professions to secure medicine prescribing rights in several countries. However, there are differences in terms of the extent of these rights and the types of medications that optometrists are permitted to prescribe across different countries. It seems that optometrists in the UK were on the front foot in terms of securing oral medicines prescribing rights in 2008, whereas those in Australia are limited to prescribing topical medicines.

In New Zealand, optometrists have the status of ‘authorised prescribers’, and as such they are able to prescribe both oral and topical medicines appropriate to their scope of practice, which is described as the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease. The general scope of practice for optometrists does not currently include surgery or injecting, but recently a new extended scope for YAG laser procedures (capsulotomy and PI) has been approved by the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board.

In some regions, such as the UK, and many states of the USA, the optometry scope of practice can include some laser surgeries.

It is important that optometrists can practice to their full scope so the clients or patients they care for can access the treatment they need in a timely and most cost-effective way. Optometry Australia continues to advocate for extended prescribing rights; likewise in New Zealand, the NZ Association of Optometrists advocates for extended prescribing rights, introduction of injecting rights and further development of authority to perform ophthalmic surgery.

Find out more about optometrists