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How to Become an Optometrist

By Nikita Ross

Published:

When exploring potential careers in the medical field, optometry is worthy of consideration. Optometrists benefit from job security, financial stability, and the opportunity to perform a service that improves the lives of their patients. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about becoming an optometrist, from degree requirements to salary expectations to work-life balance.

Career Summary

Optometrist Salary

Optometrist Salary

Your salary as an optometrist will vary depending on which type of position you choose (i.e., private practice owner, government agency, etc.) and your experience level. However, the most likely salary for optometrists in the USA is as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$113k)
  • Median Salary (US$184k)
  • Executive Salary (US$242k)

This is significantly higher than the 2022 national median income of roughly $61,000.

What does an Optometrist do?

An optometrist is a specialized healthcare professional who plays a crucial role in maintaining and enhancing our vision. These skilled professionals are not medical doctors, but they are extensively trained to examine, diagnose, and treat various eye conditions and vision problems.

Optometrists perform comprehensive eye exams to assess visual acuity, refractive errors, and eye health. They prescribe corrective lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses, to improve visual clarity and comfort.

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist

An optometrist is a primary eye care provider who specializes in performing eye exams, prescribing corrective lenses, and diagnosing eye conditions. They can detect and manage common eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, referring patients to ophthalmologists for more complex cases.

On the other hand, an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery, capable of diagnosing and treating complex eye diseases, performing eye surgeries, and providing advanced medical interventions.

Optometrist Career Progression

Optometry doesn’t have career progression in the sense of entry-level to senior-level positions. Once you graduate with your Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree, you can pursue an optometrist position with an employer or start your own practice.

However, movement through an optometry career often looks like this:

  • Early Career: Newly licensed optometrists often start their careers as associates in established optometry practices, healthcare institutions, or retail optical stores. During this phase, they gain practical experience, build patient rapport, and refine their clinical skills.
  • Establishing a Practice: Some optometrists choose to establish their private practice once they have gained enough experience and financial stability. Owning a practice allows for greater autonomy and the potential for higher earnings.
  • Specialization: As optometrists gain experience, they may choose to specialize in a particular area of optometry, such as pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, low vision rehabilitation, contact lenses, or sports vision. Specialization can open up new career opportunities and potentially higher earning potential.
  • Academia and Research: Some optometrists may pursue careers in academia, becoming professors or researchers in optometry schools or research institutions. They contribute to the education of future optometrists and advance the knowledge in the field through research.
  • Clinical Management: Experienced optometrists may take on leadership roles in healthcare institutions or multi-doctor practices, overseeing clinical operations and staff.
Optometrist Career Progression

Pros:

  • Helping people.
  • Autonomy.
  • Positive outlook for job growth.
  • Financial stability.
  • Respectable career title.

Cons:

  • High patient load.
  • Stress with running a private practice.
  • Personal impact on vision from focusing on small details.
  • Continuous changes in technology.
  • Delivering bad news to patients.

Useful Skills to Have as an Optometrist

  • Clinical Expertise
  • Communication Skills
  • Attention to Detail
  • Empathy and Compassion
  • Technology Proficiency
  • Decision Making

Popular Optometrist Specialties

  • Pediatric Optometry
  • Geriatric Optometry
  • Low Vision Rehabilitation
  • Sports Vision
  • Ocular Disease Management
  • Neuro-Optometry
  • Public Health Optometry
  • Occupational Optometry

How to become an Optometrist

Optometrist 5 Steps to Career

Optometrist Education Requirements

Do I Need a Degree to Become an Optometrist?

If you aspire to become an optometrist, you may wonder if obtaining a degree is an absolute requirement for pursuing this rewarding career path. The answer is a resounding yes—earning a degree is an essential step on the journey to becoming an optometrist.

To practice as a licensed optometrist in the United States, a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree from an accredited optometry school is mandatory.

Why Is It Important to Get a Degree in Optometry?

An optometry degree holds immense significance for individuals aspiring to thrive in this field. It equips students with vital knowledge and skills essential for becoming proficient eye care professionals.

Through rigorous coursework and practical training, aspiring optometrists explore subjects like ocular anatomy, physiology, and various eye conditions, honing their abilities to diagnose and treat a diverse range of visual and ocular health issues.

Moreover, this degree serves as a prerequisite for obtaining the necessary licensing and accreditation to practice as a qualified optometrist, ensuring patient safety and the delivery of high-quality eye care services.

Additionally, formal education in optometry empowers graduates to stay abreast of cutting-edge advancements in the field, enabling them to remain at the forefront of eye care developments.

Ultimately, this degree not only unlocks rewarding career opportunities but also establishes professional credibility, instilling confidence and trust in patients seeking top-notch eye care solutions.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Degree in Optometry?

The journey to becoming an optometrist involves dedicated academic preparation and a substantial time commitment.

Aspiring optometrists typically start by pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree, which acts as a foundational step in their educational path. During this undergraduate phase, it is crucial for students to complete several science credits, as they form the basis for the advanced studies to come.

Once the bachelor’s degree is achieved, candidates can apply for admission to a four-year Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program. This intensive program, accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE), encompasses a comprehensive curriculum covering various aspects of eye care and vision science.

Upon successful completion of the O.D. degree program, graduates emerge as licensed optometrists, equipped with the knowledge and skills to deliver proficient eye care.

Combining the four years of undergraduate education with the four years of optometry school, it takes most individuals an estimated eight years to fulfill the educational requirements and fulfill their dream of becoming a qualified optometrist.

How Much Does It Cost to Study Optometry at University?

Embarking on the journey toward a bachelor’s degree can lead to thrilling opportunities, but costs can vary based on the institution of choice. Public universities often extend a wallet-friendly option, charging around $10,000 annually for in-state students. Meanwhile, the allure of private universities beckons with their unique offerings, but expect a price tag of $30,000 or more each year.

The cost of a four-year Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program at a public university for in-state students may range from $100,000 to $200,000, while private institutions could cost even higher. The average annual tuition and associated fees range from $36,772 to $43,144 for in and out-of-state applicants, respectively.

Additionally, other expenses like textbooks, lab fees, equipment, and clinical supplies can add to the overall cost. However, financial aid, scholarships, and grants may be available to eligible students, helping to alleviate some of the financial burden.

It’s essential for prospective students to research the specific universities they are interested in, explore financial aid options, and plan their finances accordingly to make an informed decision about pursuing a career in optometry.

Can I Become an Optometrist Through Online Education?

You cannot become an optometrist solely through online education. Becoming an optometrist typically requires a combination of in-person education and hands-on clinical training. While some aspects of optometry education may be offered through online courses or virtual learning platforms, the core of the education and clinical experience usually necessitates in-person attendance.

Optometry involves extensive practical training and direct patient care, which cannot be fully replicated in an online setting. Students need hands-on experience to develop clinical skills, perform eye examinations, and gain exposure to real-life eye conditions under the supervision of licensed optometrists.

4 Useful Web Resources to Supplement Your Learning

While becoming an optometrist requires formal education and clinical training from accredited institutions, there are various online resources available to supplement your learning and acquire additional skills related to optometry.

Here are some web resources that can be helpful:

  • American Optometric Association (AOA) Website: The AOA website offers a wealth of information, resources, and updates related to the field of optometry. It includes educational materials, research articles, and updates on industry trends.
  • Optometry Times: This online publication covers a wide range of topics related to optometry, including clinical insights, technology updates, and practice management tips.
  • Review of Optometry: Another valuable online publication that provides in-depth articles on various optometry-related subjects, including clinical information and professional development.
  • VisionWeb: A platform dedicated to eye care professionals, VisionWeb offers webinars and resources to stay updated on industry trends, practice management, and advancements in optometric technology.

While these resources can supplement your knowledge, remember that formal education and clinical training are essential components to becoming a licensed optometrist. Always verify the credibility of the sources and use online resources to enhance your learning experience rather than replace formal education.

Practical Experience

What are Internship Opportunities for an Optometrist?

Internship opportunities for optometrists are valuable for gaining practical experience, honing clinical skills, and developing a deeper understanding of the profession. Some common internship opportunities include:

  • Clinical Internships: These internships are typically offered within optometry clinics or hospitals. Under the supervision of licensed optometrists, interns actively participate in patient care, perform eye examinations, diagnose vision problems, and prescribe corrective lenses or treatments.
  • Specialty Internships: Some optometrists may choose to pursue specialized internships in areas such as pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, contact lens fitting, or low vision rehabilitation. These internships allow individuals to gain expertise in a specific field of interest.
  • Research Internships: Internships with research institutions or academic departments enable optometrists to participate in vision-related research projects. This experience can contribute to advancements in the field and provide a deeper understanding of ocular conditions.
  • Industry Internships: Companies in the eye care industry may offer internships focused on product development, marketing, or sales. These internships provide insights into the business side of optometry and the latest innovations in eye care technology.
  • Government or Nonprofit Internships: Some government agencies or nonprofit organizations may offer internships related to public health initiatives, community eye care programs, or eye health outreach efforts.
  • International Internships: Optometrists may have the opportunity to participate in internships abroad, gaining exposure to diverse patient populations and different healthcare systems.

Internships vary in duration and may be part of optometry degree programs or post-graduate opportunities. They allow aspiring and practicing optometrists to apply classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios, build professional networks, and enhance their career prospects.

These experiences are crucial for preparing optometrists to provide quality eye care and contribute to the advancement of the field.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Optometrist?

As an optometrist, you will acquire a diverse set of skills that are essential for providing comprehensive eye care and ensuring the well-being of your patients. Some of the key skills you will learn include:

  • Clinical Examination: You will learn to perform thorough eye examinations, including assessments of visual acuity, refraction, binocular vision, and ocular health.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment: You will develop the ability to diagnose various eye conditions and vision problems, and prescribe appropriate treatments, corrective lenses, or medications.
  • Contact Lens Fitting: You will learn to fit and prescribe contact lenses for patients with different vision needs and eye conditions.
  • Low Vision Rehabilitation: You will gain skills in helping patients with low vision maximize their remaining vision and improve their quality of life.
  • Pediatric Optometry: You will learn to provide eye care for children, including diagnosing and managing conditions specific to pediatric patients.
  • Geriatric Optometry: You will gain expertise in addressing age-related eye conditions and vision changes in older adults.
  • Clinical Decision-Making: You will develop the ability to make informed and ethical decisions regarding patient care and treatment plans.
  • Interpersonal Communication: Effective communication is crucial in building rapport with patients, understanding their concerns, and conveying complex information in a patient-friendly manner.
  • Patient Education: You will learn to educate patients about eye health, preventive measures, and the proper use of visual aids.
  • Optometric Technology: You will be trained in using advanced diagnostic equipment and technologies to aid in eye examinations and treatment planning.
  • Business and Practice Management: For optometrists in private practice, you will gain skills in managing the administrative and financial aspects of running an optometry clinic.
  • Continuous Learning: The field of optometry is constantly evolving, and you will learn the importance of staying updated with the latest research, advancements, and best practices.

These skills combine to make you a proficient and caring eye care professional, capable of diagnosing and treating various eye conditions while ensuring the overall visual health and well-being of your patients.

What Is the Work-Life Balance of an Optometrist?

The work-life balance of an optometrist can vary depending on several factors, including the type of practice, employment setting, and personal preferences. For example, optometrists in private practice may have the flexibility to set their work hours, allowing for a better work-life balance. On the other hand, optometrists working in clinics or healthcare institutions might have more structured schedules with regular working hours, which can contribute to a stable work-life balance.

Here are some other aspects to consider:

  • Patient Load: The number of patients an optometrist sees each day can influence their work-life balance. A larger patient load might lead to longer working hours, while a more manageable workload allows for more personal time.
  • Weekends and Evenings: Some optometrists may work on weekends or evenings to accommodate patients’ needs. This can impact their work-life balance, especially if they have personal commitments during these times.
  • Part-Time Options: Optometrists seeking a better work-life balance might explore part-time or job-sharing opportunities, allowing them to balance work commitments with personal life.
  • On-Call Responsibilities: Optometrists working in emergency eye care or certain specialty areas may have on-call responsibilities, which can impact their personal time.

It’s important to note that the work-life balance can evolve throughout an optometrist’s career. New graduates or those starting a practice may experience heavier workloads initially, but as they establish their careers, they may have more control over their schedule.

Ultimately, achieving a positive work-life balance depends on individual preferences, time management, and finding the right employment setting that aligns with one’s personal and professional goals.

What’s the Career Outlook for Optometrists?

The demand for optometrists is predicted to increase significantly from 2021 to 2031, with a projected growth of 10%, surpassing the average 5% growth for most professions. On average, around 1,700 job openings for optometrists are expected to emerge annually during this decade.

A considerable portion of these opportunities will arise due to the necessity of replacing optometrists who transition to other career paths or retire from the workforce. As a result, the field of optometry presents promising prospects for those seeking a rewarding and stable career in the coming years.

Optometrist Popular Career Specialties

What Are the Job Opportunities of an Optometrist?

Optometrists have a wide range of job opportunities in various settings, making it a versatile and rewarding profession. Some of the common job opportunities for optometrists include:

  • Private Practice: Many optometrists choose to establish their private practice, offering comprehensive eye care services to patients. This option allows for autonomy and the ability to build long-term relationships with patients.
  • Group Practice or Optometry Clinics: Optometrists may join group practices or work in optometry clinics, collaborating with other eye care professionals to provide a diverse range of services.
  • Hospitals and Healthcare Institutions: Optometrists can work in hospitals and larger healthcare institutions, focusing on specialized eye care services or managing eye-related cases in collaboration with other medical professionals.
  • Academic and Research Settings: Some optometrists pursue careers in academia, teaching future optometrists and engaging in research to advance the field’s knowledge and practices.
  • Corporate and Retail Settings: Optometrists may work in corporate settings, particularly in the eye care industry, where they contribute to product development, research, or sales-related roles. They can also work in retail optical stores, providing eye exams and prescription services.
  • Government and Public Health Organizations: Optometrists may find opportunities to work with government agencies or public health organizations, participating in vision care programs, health screenings, or vision rehabilitation services.
  • Specialty Practice: Optometrists can specialize in areas such as pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, low vision rehabilitation, contact lenses, or sports vision, tailoring their careers to specific patient populations or interests.
  • Locum Tenens or Traveling Optometrist: Some optometrists opt for locum tenens work, filling temporary positions in various practices or locations, which allows them to experience diverse clinical settings.
  • Consulting and Public Speaking: Experienced optometrists with specialized knowledge may become consultants, providing expert advice to other eye care professionals or industry stakeholders. They may also participate in public speaking engagements or write articles for professional publications.
  • Teleoptometry: With advancements in technology, optometrists can explore opportunities in teleoptometry, providing remote eye care services to patients through virtual platforms.

The job opportunities for optometrists are continually evolving, with potential for growth and specialization. Optometrists can choose from a variety of career paths, making it an exciting and dynamic profession for those passionate about eye care and vision health.

What Type of Companies Hire an Optometrist?

Optometrists are sought after by various types of companies and organizations, each with distinct roles and opportunities for these eye care professionals. Some of the types of companies that hire optometrists include:

  • Private Optometry Practices: Private practices are one of the primary employers of optometrists. These practices offer comprehensive eye care services, including eye examinations, vision correction, and management of eye conditions.
  • Optical Retail Chains: Large optical retail chains hire optometrists to provide eye exams and prescription services to customers. They often work in conjunction with the sales team to fit and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Hospitals and Medical Centers: Hospitals and healthcare institutions employ optometrists to manage and treat eye conditions, especially in specialized eye care departments or alongside other medical professionals.
  • Corporate Eye Care Clinics: Some corporations offer on-site eye care services to their employees through dedicated eye care clinics. Optometrists may be hired to work in these clinics, providing routine eye exams and addressing visual health concerns.
  • Contact Lens and Eyewear Manufacturers: Some companies in the eye care industry hire optometrists to conduct research, product development, and quality assurance related to contact lenses, eyeglasses, and other visual aids.
  • Vision Insurance Companies: Vision insurance companies may employ optometrists to review and approve claims related to eye care services and treatments.
  • Telehealth Platforms: With the rise of teleoptometry, optometrists may find opportunities with telemedicine companies, providing remote eye care services to patients through virtual consultations.
  • Sports Teams and Athletic Organizations: Professional sports teams and athletic organizations may hire optometrists specializing in sports vision to improve the visual performance of athletes.

The diverse employment opportunities for optometrists provide them with the flexibility to choose from various career paths, allowing them to align their expertise and interests with the specific needs of different companies and organizations.Optometry is a promising field with versatile job opportunities and substantial earning potential. However, the cost and time of education are a significant barrier to entry, as a degree is absolutely necessary.

If you wish to pursue a career in the medical field, have a passion for helping others, and dream of owning your own practice, optometry is a worthy career path to explore. Take some time to learn more about the entry requirements for optometry and determine whether this is the career for you!

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