What you need to know
Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose and treat visual problems and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.
Most optometrists work in stand-alone offices of optometry. Optometrists may also work in doctors’ offices and optical goods stores, and some are self-employed. Most work full time, and some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.
Some of the things optometrists might do:
- Perform vision tests and analyze results
- Diagnose sight problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, and eye diseases, such as glaucoma
- Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other visual aids, and if state law permits, medications
- Perform minor surgical procedures to correct or treat visual or eye health issues
- Provide treatments such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation
- Provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing eye surgery—for example, examining a patient’s eyes the day after surgery
- Evaluate patients for the presence of other diseases and conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, and refer patients to other healthcare providers as needed
- Promote eye and general health by counseling patients
- Decision-making skills. Optometrists must evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.
- Detail oriented. Optometrists must ensure that patients receive appropriate treatment and that medications and prescriptions are accurate. They must also monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
- Interpersonal skills. Optometrists spend most of their time examining patients, so they must be at ease interacting with patients and must make them feel comfortable during treatment.
- Speaking skills. Optometrists must clearly explain eye care instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.
The average pay for optometrists in the United States was $124,300 in May 2021 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
An optometrist’s pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
About 1,700 new job openings for optometrists are projected each year, on average, over the next 10 years in the United States.
Overall employment of optometrists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2031 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.
Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will lead to demand for more optometrists.
In addition the number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has grown in recent years and more optometrists will be needed to monitor, treat, and refer individuals with chronic conditions stemming from diabetes.
Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.
After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize. Areas of specialization for residency programs include family practice, low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.