Optometry is the field of medicine devoted to the visual system. An optometrist is a medical professional who examines, diagnoses, treats and manages diseases of the eye, including injuries to the eye and associated structures. Optometrists may also prescribe medications and design corrective therapies for those with poor or limited vision. This includes measuring the eye and vision to provide corrective lenses (spectacle and contact) and perform certain corrective surgical procedures.
The Work: Optometrists’ work can be varied. Most often, an optometrist measures and evaluates the visual system, but may also be called upon to perform surgeries of the eye and supporting structures in cases of injury and severe disease. Optometrists also assist in the diagnosis and treatment of systemic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which often have symptoms that are demonstrated earliest in the eye. Eye-specific conditions that require treatment also fall under care of an optometrist, such as cataract surgical care, refractive laser treatment, and retinal diseases and deterioration.
Specialties: Optometrists often focus on crafting glasses for patients or fitting them for contact lenses to correct vision problems. However, individuals may specialize in the care of older persons (geriatrics), for those visually impaired, for those working in specialized occupations (to protect workers vision and minimize eye strain), for children (pediatrics), or for athletes (sports vision). Additionally, one may elect to pursue academic careers in education or research.
The Work Setting: Optometrist generally work in a private or small group practice, although many are associated with large companies to provide vision care and corrective treatments. Working hours are generally standard (9 am – 5 pm), but can vary depending on demand and practice requirements and can be quite flexible. Few optometrists receive emergency calls. Indeed, optometry is ranked 39th out of 250 by the Jobs Rated Almanac (1999), which ranked the best jobs in the nation according to income, stress, physical demands, potential job growth, job security and work environment.
Entry Into Field: A license to practice pharmacy is required in all 50 states (“Board Certification”) following completion of a professional optometric degree program. Licensure exams consist of both written and clinical sections; most states use examinations through the National Board of Examiners of Optometry (NEBO).
Education: Schools of Optometry offer four-year programs leading to a doctor of optometry degree. There are 17 schools and colleges of optometry in the United States, but none in Virginia. Admission requirements vary by school; be certain to check what is required by each school in which you are interested.
Compensation: Rated one of the top-ten income-earning professions in the US (USA Today), optometrists earn on average over $130,000 per year (American Optometric Association Economic Survey).
Job Outlook: The job prospect for optometrists is very good. With an aging population in the US, the demand for vision correction, from glasses to laser surgery, will likely increase. Likewise, eye diseases express more prominently in older adults and will demand more and more treatment. Even so, a greater portion of the general population is realizing the importance of good overall health care, including eye health and vision. Demand will also increase as many current optometrist are aging themselves and will soon retire.