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A Day in the Life of a Optometrist

“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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

Breakthroughs in technology have made optometry a more accurate science and have made treatments once unthinkable, such as a radial keratotomy, a reality. More and more optometrists are hiring optometric assistants and other support personnel to meet the growing demand for eye care. Because more HMOs and health care plans include vision plans, optometry is a growth industry, and not just for those individuals with private practices. Employment in this field is expected to grow as fast or faster than average when compared to all other occupations.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Starting salaries for optometrists are relatively high, although income varies greatly depending on geographic area and specialization. Optometrists who begin working as salaried employees tend to earn more initially than those individuals who start their own practices. Beginning optometrists enter into associate practices with other optometrists to earn enough money to start their own practice.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Professional reputation and the number of years in practice affect earnings level. Optometrists who have their own practice in the six-figure range will start to develop a client base and a reputation. Those optometrists who are working for group practices or HMOs with four or five years of experience can be pulling in anywhere from $30,000–$85,000. At this point, some professionals may have gone back to school for a master’s degree or PhD to acquire the necessary training to teach or to specialize in areas like neuro-optometry or pediatric optometry. Some optometrists decide to pursue research positions.

TEN YEARS OUT

In the long run, it is those who have private practices who end up with the most lucrative jobs. With years of experience and a solid reputation, an optometrist in a major metropolitan area can make as much as $160,000 per year.