What Is The Difference Between Optometrist And Ophthalmologist?

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist: Let’s find out the Key Differences between Optometrist and Ophthalmologist, their Similarities, Salaries, what they can do, and which one you need to choose.
Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist: What’s The Difference?

An optometrist cannot be called a physician, whereas an ophthalmologist is always a qualified physician. Optometrists have a limited scope of functionality, while ophthalmologists can perform a broader set of functions. Both the experts complete four years of medical school, but ophthalmologists also complete hospital-based residency and one year of internship in addition to the medical studies.

Explaining Optometrist Vs. Ophthalmologist Definitions

Defining the two specialists can help us to understand the optometrist and ophthalmologist differences better.

What Is An Optometrist?

An optometrist is trained for examining the eyes for detecting abnormalities, defects in vision, ocular diseases, and general health-related problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. 

What Is An Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a doctor specialized in vision and eye care who is licensed to practice surgery and medicine. Such a professional can diagnose and treat eye diseases, prescribe contact lenses, and eyeglasses for correcting vision problems and perform eye surgeries.

Clearing optometrist and ophthalmologist scope

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When Should You See An Ophthalmologist?

You must see an ophthalmologist when you notice any physical symptoms in your eye, like crossed eyes, etc. He is competent to arrest eye problems at the first stage. Additionally, he is medically trained to perform surgeries like a laser, etc.

What Can Optometrists Diagnose?

An optometrist can examine the eyes for vision and general health issues and can further prescribe various eye exams. He is trained to correct your refractive errors by prescribing contact lenses or eyeglasses. He is also medically competent to fit your contact lenses better. Providing vision therapy and low vision care also falls under his scope. 

Additionally, in the United States, each state can, by law, license an optometrist to prescribe suitable medications for certain eye-related diseases.

What Can’t Do An Optometrist?

Optometrists cannot treat severe eye conditions as they are not surgical specialists. They have, however, perform minor surgeries in some states, depending on the state legislation. It might include laser eye surgery, foreign body removal, and other such minor eye operations.

What Can’t An Ophthalmologist Do?

There is nothing related to eye-care that is outside the scope of functioning of ophthalmologists. They can treat both normal and severe eye conditions with the strenuous training and education they acquire. This includes the performance of eye surgeries for treating glaucoma, cataracts, and other serious operations.

Discussing Optometrist Versus Ophthalmologist Similarities

  • Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can perform regular checkups of your eyes.
  • They can prescribe contact lenses and eyeglasses for vision-related problems.
  • Both complete four years of college before entering the field of specialization. 
  • Both can prescribe medication for eye-related diseases.
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What Are The Key Differences Between An Optometrist And An Ophthalmologist?

  • An optometrist is not a medical physician while an ophthalmologist is.
  • The scope of an optometrist’s practice is narrower than that of an ophthalmologist’s practice.
  • There is a considerable difference in optometrist vs. ophthalmologist salary. An ophthalmologist is a trained professional who draws more salary than the other.
  • An optometrist is required to receive a minimum of eight years of education after high school, whereas an ophthalmologist’s minimum requirement is twelve years of education after high school.
  • An ophthalmologist must complete at least three years of a hospital-based eye residency program. There is no such requirement for an optometrist.
  • An optometrist receives a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree, whereas an ophthalmologist gets a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) or Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree.

Is An Optometrist A Doctor?

An Optometrist is not a medical doctor because he is at a different level of eye-care training and expertise than that of an Ophthalmologist, a licensed medical doctor. An optometrist has less time spent at the school of optometry with a lesser period at the residency, unlike doctors.

What Is The Average Salary Of An Optometrist?

An average optometrist salary is around $60 per hour. For a broader view, the salary range is between $53 to $67 per hour worked.

Can I See An Ophthalmologist Without A Referral?

One can see an ophthalmologist without referral in case of an eye problem, but in that case, he loses the chance of getting an insurance claim on the cost of the visit. 

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Is Optometry A Dying Profession?

Optometry is not a dying profession. Any technological advancement cannot replace eye care post-surgery, glaucoma, cataract, dry eye, and numerous other pre and post-surgical eye care conditions. The profession is evolving with the increasing population. 

Is Optometry A Good Career?

With ever-increasing eye problems in millions of aging people, a career specialized in eye-care is undoubtedly a good career. Contrary to the belief, statistics prove that it is in an evolving stage.

Can An Optometrist Diagnose Cataracts? 

Yes, an optometrist can diagnose cataracts by conducting a series of eye tests. And in case the results are positive for the disease, he will refer you to a specialist.

Difference Between Optometrist And Ophthalmologist At A Glance

StatusThey are not doctors.They are medical doctors.
ScopeThey are primary eye-care providers.They are advanced eye-care providers.
FunctionsThey can perform limited eye-care functions.They can perform any level of eye-care functions.
EducationA minimum of eight years of education after high school is mandatory.A minimum of twelve years of education after high school is mandatory.
Eye residency programThey don’t need to join the eye residency program. However, they can join it optionally.They are required to complete at least three years of hospital-based eye residency program.
SalaryThey draw less salary.They draw more salary.
RelationshipThey refer patients to ophthalmologists for performing surgeries and other serious eye-related issues.They refer patients to optometrists for post-surgical eye-care, vision therapy, optical aid, and contact lens fittings.
DegreeThey receive a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree.They receive a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) or Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree.
Surgical proceduresThey can carry out minor surgical procedures in some states. They can carry out serious surgical procedures in all the states. 

Comparison Chart

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist: Let’s find out the Key Differences between Optometrist and Ophthalmologist, their Similarities, Salaries, what they can do, and which one you need to choose.

Comparison Video

Optometrist or Ophthalmologist: Know the difference

Choosing Between Optometrist Or Ophthalmologist

Optometrists can be called the primary eye-care providers as they cannot perform advanced eye surgeries due to their limited scope legally. Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, are the advanced eye-care providers who can perform eye surgeries as they are medical physicians. An optometrist can refer you to an ophthalmologist for an advanced procedure that he cannot perform.


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Alex Stantor
Alex Stantor

Alex Stantor is a Sorbonne University (Paris, France) graduate in Philosophy and Data Analysis. Currently, he is an Author and Researcher at Difference 101, he writes articles/blog posts on topics such as "thinking differently" and "the importance of difference". Alex is a passionate advocate of diversity in the workplace and in companies, and diversity and inclusion in corporate communications. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

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