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What Is the Difference between an Optometrist and Optician?

By Nya Bruce
Updated May 17, 2024
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Optometrists and opticians are both professionals in the vision industry. They are, however, two extremely different career choices that should not be confused with one another. The primary differences between an optometrist and optician include the level of education, licensing and the type and scope of work that they perform.

When it comes to education, optometrists generally must complete three to four years in college and another four years in an accredited optometry program. At the end of their four years of optometry school, students earn their Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Opticians typically only require a high school diploma. While it is not mandatory, many employers prefer to hire opticians who have completed at least two years of college and obtained an associate's degree.

Licensing is another major difference between an optometrist and optician. In the United States, all optometrists must be licensed regardless of which state they are employed in. When it comes to opticians, only certain states require licensing. For a person to be eligible in these states, he must have completed an apprenticeship program, attended vocational school, or finished a minimum of two years in college. Internationally, licensing as well as education requirements may vary depending on the country or region.

While all the differences between an optometrist and optician are significant, the most obvious is the scope of work that each professional can legally perform. It is the job of the optometrist to provide care for the vision of their patients. They examine and test the eyes for conditions that can hinder a person's eyesight. When treatment is necessary to improve the patient's vision, the optometrist must determine the best course of treatment to take. If the optometrist discovers a health condition that is beyond his training, it is also his job to refer the patient to a medical eye doctor, known as an ophthalmologist.

In treating vision problems, optometrists may recommend vision aids such as glasses or contact lenses. Optometrists take all of the necessary measurements that allow them to write out a prescription for both types of corrective eye wear. When it comes to contact lenses, they are also responsible for determining the correct type of lens to use, as well as fitting the lens for the best comfort and vision possible.

Both the optometrist and optician are necessary when it comes to the patient receiving the correct pair of glasses or contact lenses. While an optometrist determines the correct prescription, the optician's job is to assist the patient in selecting the correct eyeglass frames and to place the order for the prescription to be put into them. Once the order arrives, the optician must verify that the finished glasses have been made correctly and ensure that they fit properly on the patient. Often, they are also responsible for ensuring that the patient is comfortable with inserting contact lenses. Opticians do not examine, diagnose or determine the contact lens or eyeglass prescription.

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