Optometry as a Career

Is optometry a rewarding career?

Yes! Optometry offers a challenging, interesting and rewarding career path. Optometrists can choose to practice in many different locales, to specialize in diverse areas of patient care, and to work in a myriad of different practice situations. The scope of optometry continues to grow as new technologies and new treatments for eye disease are developed. As the primary eye care profession, optometrists are in a unique position to improve the quality of life and health of their patients by providing quality comprehensive eye care.

What skills does an optometrist need?

Optometry requires a host of different skills. Optometrists must be good listeners and observers; they must be able to visually identify small details and subtle differences. A good memory is an advantage, since optometrists must learn, commit to memory, and be able to recall details about many different eye conditions, systemic diseases, pharmacologic agents, and treatment regimens. An ability to analyze data gathered by visual, tactile and auditory means is important. Good interpersonal skills are valuable, since most optometrists spend their days communicating with patients and colleagues. Optometrists need to be lifelong learners, since they are continually learning new techniques, treatments and information about eye conditions.

What training and education is required to be an optometrist?

Optometrists begin their preliminary training during their undergraduate years. Most schools of optometry require a broad spectrum of college courses that emphasize math and science, as well as human anatomy and physiology. The Optometric Admission Test (OAT) is a standardized test that is required for candidates applying to optometry school. It is also important for applicants to have some exposure to an optometry practice and to understand what an optometrist does on a day-to-day basis. Many schools also require an essay and an interview.

Optometry school encompasses four years. It includes rigorous coursework in optics, physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, eye disease, refraction and clinical examination techniques. Training includes class work and lab work, as well as clinical training and externships. After completing all four years, students graduate with a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree and are eligible to take the National Board Examination or individual state board exams for licensure. Many graduates also complete a year of residency in a particular area of interest (for example, contact lenses, low vision or refractive surgery, among many others) or in primary eye care.

There are currently 16 optometry schools in the United States, two in Canada, and one in Puerto Rico. For a complete listing of schools of optometry and information about schools and admissions, go to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry's website, www.opted.org.

Special note for Colorado residents:

The State of Colorado supports Colorado residents who wish to study optometry through the Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) that is administered by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). The program provides four years of tuition assistance for future ODs who wish to study in the West. For more information, visit http://www.wiche.edu/sep/psep/ If you’re interested in applying for support, contact your state certifying officer at 303.866.2724; she can also tell you about arrangements with other schools of optometry outside of the western region.

Where do optometrists practice?

Optometrists have diverse options for practice locations. They can be found in rural and urban community settings. Many optometrists participate in solo or group private practices, while others choose to work in an HMO or outpatient clinic setting. Optometrists care for patients in refractive laser centers and surgery centers. Other opportunities include the military, the U.S. government, research, and educational or teaching institutions.