Optometry Career Overview
Vision care is provided by doctors of optometry, or Optometrists. These doctors find eye diseases and vision problems by testing color perception, depth perception, focusing and coordination ability, and visual acuity. Optometrists prescribe drugs, eyeglasses, and contact lenses to help treat vision problems. They care for patients before and after surgeries such as laser vision correction and cataract removal. They also refer patients to other doctors when they recognize symptoms and diagnose diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Dispensing opticians and ophthalmologists are different from optometrists. Dispensing opticians use the prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists to adjust and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses. Eye surgery is performed by ophthalmologists who also care for eye injury and disease.
Optometrists often specialize in work with sports vision, contact lenses, or vision therapy. Others work exclusively with children, the elderly, or people who require unique devices to see. The majority of optometrists work in a general practice. Others consult, teach, or conduct research.
Optometrists with their own practices are also responsible for office business and duties. They must keep their own records, acquire a patient base, order supplies, and hire other employees when needed.
Optometry Training and Job Qualifications
To practice optometry in the U.S., you must have a license. Obtaining a license requires a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited program as well as passing scores on a clinical State board and written examination. Sometimes examinations taken through the National Board of Examiners in Optometry can be substituted for the written test. Every 1-3 years, licenses must be renewed. Continuing education credits are required for license renewal.
Most students entering an optometry program have at least a bachelor’s degree. To be accepted into a program, a minimum of three years of pre-optometric study is required. Accredited optometry programs usually take four years of study for completion. According to the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association, there were seventeen optometry schools in the U.S. that were accredited with the association in 2002.
Once accepted to an optometry program, courses are taken in vision science, systemic disease, pharmacology, biochemistry, and optics. Programs provide clinical training in diagnosing and treating eye disorders, as well as classroom study in visual and health sciences.
To be an optometrist, it is important to be detail oriented, to have good people skills, a strong business sense, and self-discipline.
To conduct research for a career, optometrists usually obtain a master’s degree or Ph.D. in health administration, health education, visual science, neurophysiology, health information and communication, physiological optics, or public health. If an optometrist wants to specialize in ocular disease, contact lenses, family practice, primary care optometry, pediatric optometry, hospital-based optometry, vision therapy, or geriatric optometry, they must attend a postgraduate clinical residency program that usually lasts one year.
Optometry Job and Employment Opportunities
An average growth rate is expected through 2012 for optometrist employment. This is due to the aging of a growing population. The elderly have an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, cataracts, hypertension, and glaucoma. These patients will need optometric care. Employment will also grow as employee vision care plans improve, as more people realize the importance of good vision care, and as annual incomes increase.
Because optometrists are employing assistants and other employees, they are able to see more patients. This slows the growth in employment of optometrists as fewer doctors can see the same number of patients. Laser surgery is also correcting many people’s vision problems; however, optometrists are still needed for pre and postoperative care.
Few job opportunities arise from people leaving the profession. Most optometrists usually practice their occupation until retirement.
Historical Earnings Information
In 2002, optometrists in the U.S. earned an average annual salary of around $86,000. The annual average salary including self-employed optometrists was $110,000.
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