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How do I Become an Optometrist?

By P.S. Jones
Updated May 17, 2024
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An optometrist is a medical professional who examines eyes, diagnosis minor disorders or diseases of the eye, and treats them with non-surgical options. Optometrists practice optometry, the study of eyes, vision and all the related human processes. Optometrists are allied health professionals. This means that they do not have medical degree but are essential to a functioning health care system. Those who want to become an optometrist must first obtain a Doctor of Optometry degree and then a license to practice it.

The first step if you want to become an optometrist begins in college, where the student would take optometry prep classes at an accredited college or university. Pre-optometry classes differ from school to school. These classes usually consist of a combination of biology and chemistry classes as well as ones in physics and calculus. Optometry prep classes are not exclusive to any one major of study. In fact, some optometry schools only require that you complete the prep classes, not obtain an actual bachelor’s degree.

The next important step for someone who wants to become an optometrist is to gain admittance into an accredited optometry school. Students must take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and receive a passing score. The student then applies to the optometry school of their choice. Admittance guidelines differ from school to school, but most use OAT scores, undergraduate grades, and interviews in their decision making process.

To become an optometrist, the student will complete four years of study at an accredited optometry school. There they will study complete their intensive study of optometry. When the student graduates from optometry school, they will then receive a Doctor of Optometry degree. While the student is already an optometrist, he still has to pass a state board exam in order to legally practice. Once the state license is received, the student may begin practicing optometry.

Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists. While both professions study optometry, the bulk of an optometrist’s work is examining the patient’s eyes and providing prescriptive corrective options. They may also detect certain eye diseases and manage them with non-surgical treatments. An ophthalmologist’s work has a much wider range, including diagnosis, management and surgery of eye diseases or disorders. Ophthalmologists are required to obtain a full medical degree, but this is not necessary to become an optometrist.

For example, an optometrist could prescribe a contact lens or eyeglass prescription to a patient. Should that same patient need a cornea replacement, the optometrist wouldn’t be able to perform that procedure. He would have to refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for surgery.

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Discussion Comments

By staceybeck01 — On Oct 03, 2013

Thanks for all the great advice. I went to my optometrists and while I was there thought about maybe that is something I would like to do one day.

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