The optometry profession is 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 conditions and vision problems. Where they diagnose vision problems, optometrists can prescribe and fit vision corrective devices such as eyeglasses and contact lenses.
Optometrists can identify and monitor a range of eye health conditions such as cataracts and complications related to other health conditions (e.g., retinopathy due to diabetes). In these types of cases, they may refer their clients to other healthcare team members to ensure their condition is treated holistically.
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 optometrists specialise in certain areas, such as geriatric optometry, paediatrics, low vision therapy, sports vision, neuro-optometry, and behavioural optometry. Some optometrists may specialise in specific eye conditions or may choose to work in education and/or research.
Advantageous qualities and skills for optometry
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.
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.
Optometrists typically work in private clinics but may work in retail stores that prescribe and issue vision corrective devices, or in practices with other eyecare professionals or physicians. They can also work in academic or research settings.
Optometry professional education and regulatory frameworks
USA & Canada
In the USA and Canada, optometrists must attain a Doctor of Optometry, 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).
In the USA, optometrists 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.
Aspiring optometrists in Australia need to complete a Bachelor of Optometry (or a related science field) before pursuing a Doctor of Optometry. This equates to approximately seven years of university education.
Optometrists are regulated nationally by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
In New Zealand, aspiring optometrists are required to gain a Bachelor of Optometry.
Optometrists are one of 21 health professions regulated nationally by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, via the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board.
In the UK, hopeful optometrists 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
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.
Optometry workforce considerations
Optometrists are 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, where those in Australia are limited to prescribing topical medicines.
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 for optometrists.
Find out more about optometry
- American Optometric Association
- The Canadian Association of Optometrists
- Association of Optometrists | UK
- The College of Optometrists | UK
- Optometry Australia
- Optometry Board of Australia
- New Zealand Association of Optometrists
- Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board | New Zealand
- Optometry Council of India
If you have questions about the optometry profession, or if you wish to share your experiences as a optometrist, please leave a comment below.
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