The Different Types of Eye Care Professionals
Ophthalmology and Ophthalmologists
What is ophthalmology?
Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine that specializes in the anatomy, function, and diseases of the eye.
What is an ophthalmologist?
- An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic physician who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and the prevention of eye disease. An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats refractive, medical, and surgical problems related to eye diseases and disorders.
- Ophthalmologists are licensed by state regulatory boards to practice medicine and surgery, as well as deliver routine eye care.
- An ophthalmologist will have the initials "M.D." (Doctor of Medicine) or "D.O." (Doctor of Osteopathy) after his or her name.
What does an ophthalmologist do?
- Ophthalmologists are trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses to complex and delicate eye surgery.
- Ophthalmologists treat eye diseases, prescribe medications, and perform all types of surgery to improve, or prevent the worsening of, eye and vision-related conditions.
- Many ophthalmologists are also involved in scientific research into the causes of, and cures for, eye diseases and vision problems.
How is an ophthalmologist educated and trained?
- In addition to four years of medical school and one year of internship, all ophthalmologists spend a minimum of three years of residency (hospital-based training) in ophthalmology.
- During residency, ophthalmologists receive specialized training in all aspects of eye care, including prevention, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions and diseases.
- Often, an ophthalmologist spends an additional one to two years training in a subspecialty, or a specific area of eye care, such as glaucoma or pediatric ophthalmology.
- All ophthalmologists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements to stay current regarding the latest standards of care.
More Information about Ophthalmology
- For more information, you can visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology website.
- SmartSight is a resource from the American Academy of Ophthalmology that provides essential tips for making the most of remaining vision. SmartSight also provides information resources for ophthalmologists to use in referring patients who need low vision rehabilitation services.
- The EyeSmart® public awareness campaign, sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, helps Americans to take charge of their eye health; know their risk factors for eye diseases, infections and injuries; and understand how ophthalmologists can help prevent, diagnose, and treat eye conditions.
J. Gregory Rosenthal, MD: Ophthalmologist and Humanitarian
Dr. J. Gregory Rosenthal is an ophthalmologist who specializes in eye care for people with diabetes, complex retinal detachments, and macular degeneration. He is also a strong supporter of vision loss support groups as an integral component of the comprehensive vision rehabilitation process.
Says Dr. Rosenthal, "I think that sometimes doctors give up on what they consider to be 'failures': people whom they cannot return to good vision. It is a quality of life issue. Being a doctor is more than just providing medicine and surgery. Medical care is not a business first. It is a calling. A doctor is supposed to be the patient's advocate. We are supposed to use our skills to serve the patient's best interests, regardless of what we get back. It is important to think from the patient's perspective, find out how they are doing, what problems they are having."
Learn more about Dr. Rosenthal and vision rehabilitation services:
- Empowering Doctors and Patients: Taking Charge of Diabetes
- What are vision rehabilitation services?
- What is a comprehensive low vision examination?
- Check out our Getting Started Kit for more ideas to help you live well with low vision.
- Sign up with VisionAware to receive free weekly email alerts for more helpful information and tips for everyday living with vision loss.
Optometry and Optometrists
What is optometry?
Optometry is a vision care specialty that is concerned with the health of the eyes, the visual system, and related structures.
What is an optometrist?
- An optometrist is a health care professional who specializes in function and disorders of the eye, detection of eye disease, and some types of eye disease management. An optometrist conducts eye examinations, prescribes corrective contact lenses and glasses, and diagnoses and treats eye diseases and disorders.
- Optometrists are licensed by state regulatory boards that determine their scope of practice, which may vary from state to state.
- An optometrist will have the initials "O.D." (Doctor of Optometry) after his or her name.
What does an optometrist do?
- Optometrists are trained to examine the eyes for visual defects, diagnose problems or impairments, prescribe corrective lenses, and provide certain types of treatment.
- Many (but not all) U.S. states have passed legislation that allows optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures, such as laser treatment; administer injections, such as local anesthesia or treatment for macular degeneration; and prescribe additional diagnostic, therapeutic, and oral medications. Visit the American Optometric Association website to determine if your state permits optometrists to perform these additional procedures.
- Many optometrists are also involved in scientific research into the causes of, and cures for, a range of vision problems.
How is an optometrist educated and trained?
- Prior to admittance into optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor's degree.
- Optometrists then complete a four-year postgraduate program in optometry school to earn the Doctor of Optometry degree.
- Some optometrists go on to complete one- to two-year residencies with training in a specific sub-specialty area, such as pediatric or geriatric eye care, specialty contact lens, ocular disease, or neuro-optometry.
- All optometrists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements to stay current regarding the latest standards of care.
More Information about Optometry
- For more information, you can visit the American Optometric Association and American Academy of Optometry websites.
Low Vision Specialist
- Many optometrists and some ophthalmologists have additional credentials or specialization in low vision testing, diagnosis, and treatment, and are trained to conduct low vision eye examinations and prescribe special low vision optical devices.
- If you're experiencing significant vision loss, a low vision specialist can determine whether special optical and non-optical devices, improved lighting, or other types of specialized services and equipment can help make the best use of your remaining vision.
- You can find a listing of low vision specialists in the "Low Vision Services" category in the VisionAware Directory of Services.
In addition to the low vision providers in the Directory listings, you can find additional providers through the following directories:
- The American Academy of Ophthalmology directory. Use the subspecialty category "Low Vision Rehab."
- The American Optometric Association database. Use the "Advanced Search" and look for members of the Vision Rehabilitation Section.
- The Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) database of certified low vision and vision rehabilitation service providers.
- The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) database of specialty certified low vision practitioners
- An orthoptist is a certified allied health professional who works under the supervision of an ophthalmologist to evaluate and treat disorders of the visual system with an emphasis on binocular vision (using both eyes to see) and eye movement problems.
- Orthoptists most commonly work in pediatric ophthalmology settings.
- An orthoptist has a bachelor's degree in addition to a post-graduate two-year orthoptic fellowship in an accredited program.
- For more information, you can visit the American Association of Certified Orthoptists website.
- An optician is a health professional who is trained to supply, prepare, and dispense optical appliances through interpretation of written prescriptions. An optician fits and finishes eyeglass lenses and frames and may also dispense low vision devices, contact lenses, and artificial eyes.
- Opticians typically learn job skills through formal on-the-job programs. This training includes technical instruction in measuring eyes or adjusting frames under the supervision of an experienced optician.
- A number of community colleges and technical schools offer formal education in opticianry. Some award a two-year associate degree, while others offer a one-year certificate.
- Twenty-three U.S. states require licensure for opticians.
- For more information, you can visit the Opticians Association of America website.
Locate an Eye Care Professional in Your Area
- Visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology website and use their Find an Ophthalmologist online database to locate an ophthalmologist in your area.
- Visit the American Optometric Association website and use their Doctor Locator online database to locate an optometrist in your area.
- Ask for a recommendation from family members, friends, or your family doctor.
- Call your local hospitals and ask if they have outpatient ophthalmology departments.
- Check your health insurance plan for listings of approved eye care providers.
- In most cases, it is not recommended that you visit an optician for your initial exam and diagnosis.
If your vision loss can't be corrected and interferes with your everyday living, vision rehabilitation services can help maintain or restore your independent living skills.