Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist vs. Optician: What’s The Difference?

Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist vs. Optician: What’s The Difference?

Maybe you have an eye issue developing and you need to find a specialist. Or maybe you’re interested in becoming some sort of medical eye specialist.

Whatever the case, to get to the next step, you need to clearly understand the differences between the three main types of eye specialists:


Eye Specialists: Ophthalmologists vs. Optometrists vs. Opticians

The three major categories of eye professionals include ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians. Only two of these are actually considered doctors (more on this in a bit).

If you find yourself confused about which is which and who does what - don't worry, you are not alone. Here's an outline to highlight the major differences between these three types of eye professionals.

Ophthalmologists Provide Complete Eye Care

Ophthalmologists are specialized licensed physicians (i.e. MDs, or medical doctors).

They attend and graduate from medical school. Then, they do a one-year internship followed by a residency of three or more years.

Ophthalmologists are able to offer complete eye care services:

Vision assessment and eye exams

Medical care and treatment for eye conditions like chemical burns, glaucoma or iritis

Surgical procedures to correct issues from trauma, crossed eyes, glaucoma, cataracts or other problems

Diagnosis and treatment for any eye conditions related to other diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis

Even plastic surgery - for those droopy eyelids (ptosis) or smoothing of wrinkles

Optometrists Provide Vision-Care and Eye-Care Services

Optometrists are medical professionals who spend four years in a specialized program to earn the title of doctor of optometry (OD).

However, unlike ophthalmologists, they are not MDs (i.e. medical doctors/physicians).

Optometrists are able to:

Perform vision services such as eye-exams

Treat conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism

Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses

Provide low-vision aids and vision-therapy

Diagnose eye conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy or conjunctivitis

Participate in pre or post-operative care for those needing surgery

Prescribe medications for eye conditions (in some states)

Perform minor surgical procedures (in some states)

Optometrists and ophthalmologists work together to take care of you. Many times, optometrists and ophthalmologists work as a team within the same office, or by referring patients to one another.

Both are valuable to your overall eye health.

Opticians Provide Fittings and Evaluations for Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses

Opticians are not eye doctors.

They usually work alongside optometrists, but they cannot give eye-exams, make diagnoses or perform any types of surgeries.

They get a one or two year degree with a certificate or diploma. They fill eye glass prescriptions your eye doctor gives you, and evaluate those prescriptions.

Opticians provide, adjust, and repair frames, contacts and lenses. They take facial measurements and assist in decision making when it comes to glasses.


If you're interested in getting into the eye care field, understand that choosing the right path to become an eye care professional is highly personal. Knowing these differences should help guide you into the right professional health care field for you.

Or if you were researching which type of specialist to see for a potential eye issue, now you know!

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