To become a doctor of optometry, also known as an optometrist, a person must complete several years of educational training and pass licensing examinations. Education required to become a doctor of optometry may include up to seven years of rigorous coursework and practical training, both in undergraduate and graduate-level programs. An optometrist can also choose to become a specialist by completing at least one additional year of an internship.
Choosing the right educational path is one of the most important steps needed to become a doctor of optometry. Students may begin working toward a degree in high school by electing to take advanced classes in biology, chemistry, and other sciences. During high school, it may also help to research colleges that offer optometry programs, to help narrow down choices for higher education. School guidance counselors can be an excellent resource for students looking for information about potential programs.
Unlike most medical professions, where students may apply to medical school without any prior training, a student planning to become a doctor of optometry is generally required to complete a specific three-year training course, known as preoptometric study, before being admitted to a graduate-level program. In the second or third year of preoptometric study, students often take standardized examinations that are factored into their applications for graduate optometry programs. Some experts encourage first taking these tests in the second year, so that they may be re-taken in the third year to increase scores.
During graduate school, students will be required to take both theoretical and practical courses, as well as to participate in internships and laboratory work. In the first and second year, students may be required to take more lecture and theoretical classes, gradually transitioning to more practical work in the final two years of study. Near the end of the program, students must pass licensing examinations in order to practice legally as a professional. These examinations include both written and practical tests, and may also require students to complete a certain amount of on-the-job training hours as well as satisfying degree requirements at an accredited school.
Once a person has become a doctor of optometry, he or she has the option of beginning a professional career or choosing to study further. Those who wish to specialize in a particular branch of optometry may look for internship programs with an established professional. Internships generally last at least one year and allow an optometrist to get extensive training in a specialty while under the supervision of an accomplished specialist.
Whether working as a general optometrist or a specialist, doctors may want to augment their medical skills with business training. Since many optometrists operate their own practices, learning management, accounting, and record-keeping skills can be key to creating a successful business strategy. By incorporating an extensive medical background with business savvy, optometrists can establish themselves as consummate professionals in a competitive field.