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Overview

Optometry is a healthcare profession concerned with the eyes and related structures, as well as vision, visual systems, and visual information processing in humans. Optometrists (also known as ophthalmic opticians outside the United States and Canada) are trained to prescribe and fit lenses to improve vision, and in some countries are trained to diagnose and treat various eye diseases.  In all U.S. states optometrists are licensed to diagnose and treat diseases of the eye through topical diagnostic and therapeutic drugs, and oral drugs in 48 of the 50 states.

This differs from ophthalmology as this branch of medicine deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eyes. Sounds similar to optometry, however the major difference is that an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D.). To practice this specialty in the United States, four years of residency training after medical school are required, with the first year being an internship in surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, or a general transition year. This obviously involves a more lengthy academic commitment and greater tuition and related costs.

Education

There are a host of Colleges of Optometry located throughout the United States. A list of accredited programs may be reviewed at the American Optometric Association  (AOA) site. This association represents approximately 39,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities-they are the only eye doctors. Doctors of optometry provide two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.

Students seeking to make a real difference will find no better career than optometry. Only one degree qualifies you to become an optometrist:  the Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), a four-year, doctoral-level degree. While concentrating primarily on structure, function, and disorders of the eye, students in a professional O.D. program will also take courses in human anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology, among others, to prepare for their role as primary-care doctors protecting patients’ overall health and wellness.

Another list of optometry schools is listed on the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry  (ASCO) website. Their school listing doesn’t rank or endorse any of the accredited schools and colleges of optometry in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. Additionally, ASCO conducts an Optometry Admission Test (OAT) which is a standardized examination designed to measure general academic ability and comprehension of scientific information. The OAT consists of four tests: Survey of the Natural Sciences (Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry), Reading Comprehension, Physics and Quantitative Reasoning.

Successful participants who take the OAT typically complete at least one year of college education, including courses in biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics. Most applicants complete two or more years of college before taking the test. The OAT exam is computerized and examinees are allowed to take the OAT an unlimited number of times but must wait at least 90 days between testing dates.

There are also graduate degree programs in optometry. These Master’s and/or PhD degrees are usually research oriented and are for individuals interesting in delving further into the “whys” and “hows” of the visual system.

Employment

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that the median annual income was $97,820. The BLS projects a growth/change rate in jobs at 24% between 2012 and 2022 or 8,100 positions. Another site, PayScale reports the national average for optometrists at $98,000 as of 2014 with a total compensation range from $69,678 – $129,992. The median salary in the first five years is $90,000, inclusive of bonuses and overtime-where applicable.