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Who are the Three O's in an Eye Care Team?

Helpful information, major differences, and specific roles for the main specialists in an Eye Care Team:

THE OPTOMETRIST -- General Primary Eye Care

An Optometrist, Doctor of Optometry, or Optometric Physician (O.D.) is a primary health care professional that provides comprehensive eye health and vision examinations; diagnoses, treats, and manages eye diseases and vision disorders; detects general health problems; prescribes medications, glasses, contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation, and vision therapy; performs limited ocular surgical procedures; and counsels patients regarding their surgical alternatives and vision care needs as related to their occupations, avocations, and lifestyle. The Optometrist is the specialist in Vision Care.

Optometrists commonly co-manage patients with ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) by referring patients for eye surgery whenever needed and accepting patients referred to them by ophthalmologists for primary eye care, exams, glasses, pre/post surgical care, and eye disease management.

The Optometrist has completed (at a minimum) four years of biology/pre-medical/pre-optometry undergraduate education at a university and four additional years of professional education at a college of optometry leading to the Doctor of Optometry degree, and a student doctor rotation program. Some Optometrists also complete a residency in a specific area of practice that may take up to several years to complete at an eye clinic or hospital.


THE OPHTHALMOLOGIST -- Surgical Medical Eye Care

An Ophthalmologist (Doctor of Medicine M.D. or Doctor of Osteopathy D.O.) is a health care professional who specializes in eye surgery and medical eye care. The ophthalmologist is a physician surgeon that performs ocular surgery and diagnoses, treats, and manages eye and visual system medical problems. An ophthalmologist may also diagnose general diseases of the body and may prescribe medications, eyewear, and low vision devices.  The ophthalmologist is the specialist in Eye Surgery and Medical Eye Interventions.  

Ophthalmologists commonly co-manage patients with Optometrists (primary eye care doctors) who refer patients to them for surgery.  Ophthalmologists usually refer patients back to Optometrists for continued post surgical vision care, exams, glasses, eye disease management, and primary eye care.

The ophthalmologist has completed (at a minimum) four years of college biology/pre-medical undergraduate education at a university and four additional years at a college of general medicine, leading to the Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy degree, a student doctor rotation program, and three years residency in eye surgery training at an eye clinic or hospital.


THE OPTICIAN -- Dispensing of Eyewear

An Optician is a professional in the field of designing, finishing, fitting and dispensing of eyeglasses and contact lenses, based on an eye doctor's prescription. Opticians may also dispense other eyewear including low-vision aids.  The optician is the specialist in dispensing Spectacles and Eyewear.  

Opticians follow eyewear recommendations commonly prescribed for patients by Optometrists and less commonly by ophthalmologists too.

The optician has completed (at a minimum) two years of undergraduate education at a college leading to the Associate of Science in Opticianry degree or have completed a Supervised Apprenticeship Program under the direction of a licensed optician or an Optometrist that may take up to several years to complete.