What is the difference between an Ophthalmologist and an Optometrist? Does it matter who I see?
This is a great question and one that we are asked often. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are two different types of eye care providers and both are committed to helping you maintain healthy eyes and excellent vision. There are some important differences you should be aware of that may help you to decide which type of provider is best for your needs.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (M.D.) who complete 4 years of undergraduate training to obtain a bachelor’s degree followed by the same 4 years of medical school that all medical doctors complete prior to obtaining their M.D. degree. They then go on to complete a 1 year medical/surgical internship (usually in a major medical center) where they work alongside a variety of other interns to provide inpatient and outpatient care to a variety of patients with wide ranging medical conditions. Following internship your ophthalmologist completes at least 3 years of additional ophthalmology specific medical and surgical training in order to develop expertise in managing all conditions and diseases of the eye. Although your ophthalmologist is qualified to treat serious eye conditions and perform a wide range of eye surgeries they also enjoy helping patients through more routine exams for things like glasses or contact lenses. Common conditions that people see an ophthalmologist for include but are not limited to cataracts, dry eye, LASIK, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, macular degeneration, blurry vision, glasses, contacts, retinal tears and detachments, floaters, pink eye, traumatic injuries, double vision, eye pain, red eye, or infections.
Optometrists are also well qualified eye care providers and they obtain a Doctorate of Optometry degree (O.D.) rather than a medical degree. Education for an optometrist starts with a 4 year college degree (typically in a science-based concentration). From there they have another
4 years at one of the 23 optometry schools in the nation, including a year of internships at hospitals, private-practices, or other ocular settings. In addition, they may complete 1-3 years of a residency, specializing in pediatrics, ocular disease, contact lenses, low vision, and others. They frequently perform comprehensive eye examinations for glasses and contact lenses and are often considered to be the “primary care provider” for the eyes. They also assess the general health of the eye, diagnose, and treat many ocular diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, macular degeneration, dry eye disease, ocular allergies, emergencies and injuries, in addition to many other eye conditions. In most states, optometrists are not allowed to perform surgery but may perform minor procedures if appropriate. If your optometrist feels there is an issue with your ocular health that requires surgery, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist for surgical care. Following surgery your optometrist will likely play a role in post operative care as your eye returns to good health.
Ophthalmologists (M.D.) and optometrists (O.D.) both represent high levels of eye care expertise and we would be happy to help you figure out which type of appointment is best for you!