“If you are looking for a dynamic and challenging career that allows you to help people
and achieve personal growth, community respect, flexibility, and financial success, optometry
is for you,” says one optometrist with a private practice in New York City. “I’ve had this business
for nearly 40 years, and I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon. In my opinion, this field
offers unlimited opportunities.” Like this doctor, most optometrists are in private practice,
either solo or with a group of fellow optometrists. A growing number of optometrists are
employed by other optometrists or ophthalmologists, hospitals, HMOs, or retail optical
stores. Still others pursue careers in the military
or public health service, teaching, and
research. They may also specialize in working
chiefly with elderly patients, children, contact-lens patients, and the partially blind.
Whether they work in a private practice, group practice, or clinic, optometrists all perform
a number of duties. They examine the internal and external structure of the eye to
assess its neural connections, determine its ability to see color accurately, and measure depth
perception. They also assess and, with corrective lenses, improve the patient’s ability to see
both close up and from a distance. Perhaps most importantly, they can diagnose eye disease.
Optometrists will consult with ophthalmologists regarding the care for cataract patients and
can often provide much of those patients’ pre- and post-operative care. As the primary eyecare
provider, they are on the front lines to observe early signs of systemic conditions, and, by
acting in due course of their examination, contribute to their patients’ overall health. All
optometrists need great people skills and the ability to deal with patients tactfully. Those
individuals with private practices also need business skills.
Just as an optometrist’s professional responsibilities are varied and difficult, so may be
the road to becoming an optometrist. Admission into any of the 17 accredited optometric
colleges in the United States is very competitive. As an undergraduate, superior grades in
math, physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, and even English are a must.
Applicants must also take and score highly on the OCAT (Optometry College Aptitude Test).
Graduate study lasts four years and includes classroom and clinical training in ocular anatomy,
disease,myotology, pharmacology, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the vision system,
vision performance, and vision screening. Unique to optometric education is the study
of optics and extensive training in lens design, construction, application, and fitting. And,
since optometrists are members of the primary health care team, they also must study human
anatomy, general pharmacology, pathology, psychology, biochemistry, statistics, and epidemiology,
much like any medical student. After completing this study successfully for an OD
(Doctorate Degree of Optometry), optometrists must pass a state board examination to
become licensed to practice in their state.
Very few optometrists transfer to other occupations, but individuals who do sometimes
look at ophthalmology. Ophthalmologists are specialized physicians concentrating in treating
eye diseases, repairing injuries, and performing eye surgeries. Optometrists may become
ophthalmologists, but only after several more years of schooling. Because optometrists apply
scientific knowledge to prevent, diagnose, and treat disorders and injuries, those few individuals
who want to change career tracks before committing to the years of education ahead of
them also consider careers as chiropractors, podiatrists, and even speech-language pathologists.
A scant few of them become enchanted with optics and turn their career track to the
practical applications of optics in industry, such as laser technology or lens technology used
by NASA and in industrial research.