optometric physician

Eye care professional

An eye care professional is an individual who provides a service related to the eyes or vision. It is a general term that can refer to any healthcare worker involved in eye care, from one with a small amount of post-secondary training to practitioners with a doctoral level of education.

Types of eye care professionals

  • Optometrist - A Doctor of Optometry (OD) trained to diagnose and treat common eye diseases and disorders as well as refractive vision correction. In the US, the standard education is four years of college, four years of Optometry school at an accredited Doctor of Optometry program. An additional one to two years of residency, internship, and/or fellowship and specialty training is required for specialty training.
  • Ophthalmologist - A Doctor of Medicine (MD) who specializes in surgical eye care. In the US, this often requires four years of college, four years of medical school, and four to six more years of residency, internship, and/or fellowship and sub specialty training.
  • Ophthalmic Medical Practitioner - A Doctor of Medicine (MD) who specialises in ophthalmic conditions but who has not completed a specialisation in Ophthalmology. (term used in the UK).
  • Oculist - Older term for either an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
  • Ocularist - Specialize in the fabrication and fitting of ocular prostheses for people who have lost eyes due to trauma or illness.
  • Optician - Specializes in the fitting and fabrication of ophthalmic lenses, spectacles, contact lenses, low vision aids and ocular prosthetics. They may also be referred to as an Optical Dispenser, Dispensing Optician, Ophthalmic Dispenser. The prescription for the corrective lenses must be supplied by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. This is a regulated profession in most jurisdictions.
  • Orthoptist - Specializes in ocular motility, which is the movement of the eye controlled by the extraocular muscles.
  • Vision therapist - Works with patients that require vision therapy, such as low vision patients.
  • Ophthalmic Medical Personnel - A collective term for allied health personnel in ophthalmology. It is often used to refer to specialized personnel (unlike ocularists or opticians). The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology administers OMP certifications.
  • Optometric physician or medical optometrist - a term used by some optometrists that denotes expanded licensure.

The distinction between optometrist and ophthalmologist

An optometrist is defined by the World Council of Optometry (a member of the World Health Organisation) as follows:

Optometry is a healthcare profession that is autonomous, educated, and regulated (licensed/registered), and optometrists are the primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology describes an ophthalmologist as follows:

A medical doctor who specializes in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis, management, and surgery of ocular diseases and disorders.

Two important distinctions are evident in these definitions. First, ophthalmologists are medical doctors and have attended medical school and specialize in surgical care of the eye, while optometrists are doctors of optometry who have attended optometry school and specialize in the general care of the eye and vision. Second, ophthalmologists are responsible for surgical treatment or diseases and disorders. Optometrists "provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye" with limited surgical involvement.

There are also important similarities. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists treat patients with medications and optical aids. Both perform screenings for common ocular problems affecting children (such as amblyopia and strabismus) and the adult population (such as cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy). Optometrists usually refer to ophthalmologists for further assessment for surgical treatment of ocular diseases. Both are required to participate in ongoing continuing education courses to maintain licensure and stay current on the latest standards of care.


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