What Is the Difference Between an Ophthalmologist and an Optometrist?

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists are trained to diagnose and treat vision problems, but ophthalmologists are also fully trained physicians. Therefore they have a broader scope of practice, according to the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology.

Optometrists, or ODs, must complete an undergraduate degree and then a four-year doctor of optometry program. They're trained to diagnose and treat vision problems as well as some illnesses and conditions of the eye, according to ExploreHealthCareers.org, and can also diagnose some broader health conditions, such as diabetes, through their effect on the eye.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors or doctors of osteopathy. Like optometrists, they complete an undergraduate degree and then a four-year doctorate, notes the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology, but then go on to complete a one-year internship and three or more years' residency in their chosen subspecialty. These include ophthalmic pathology, ophthalmic plastic surgery and pediatric ophthalmology, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Some jurisdictions permit optometrists to perform minor surgeries of the eye, according to ExploreHealthCareers.org. As trained and licensed physicians, ophthalmologists perform a broad range of surgical and medical treatments. Aside from providing vision care, as the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology notes, they also diagnose general medical conditions and can treat or manage those conditions' impact on the eye.

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists must adhere to state medical licensing laws regarding the specific amount of training and scope of patient treatment, claims MedicineNet. For example, in some states, optometrists may provide medical treatment for eye conditions and diseases and prescribe oral medications.

Optometrists may assist ophthalmologists during surgical procedures to provide preoperative and postoperative care, states WebMD. As a result, ophthalmologists and optometrists often work together to treat patients.