How to Become an Optometrist

Optometrists provide vision care in the health care system. They examine patients to diagnose eye problems related to vision, depthperception, color perception, and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Optometrists prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses and refer patients for further evaluation and treatment to other doctors. They also take care of managing personnel and other office affairs.

How to Become an Optometrist


  • Obtain Doctor of Optometry (O.D.): The first step to become an optometrist is to obtain a degree called Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), which takes four years to complete. If you want to apply for an O.D. program, you must first complete postsecondary education (at least 3 years), which includes coursework in chemistry, biology, physics, math, and English. However, many students obtain a bachelor’s degree before enrollment to a Doctor of Optometry program. This program involves both classroom learning as well as supervised clinical experience. The coursework includes anatomy, biochemistry, optics, physiology, visual science, and classes on the diagnosis and treatment of visual system diseases and disorders.
  • Finish one-year residency program: Upon finishing the O.D. degree, you may opt to complete a one-year residency program to be able to get advanced training in some area of interest. These are areas of emphasis that include family practice, pediatricoptometry, geriatric optometry, low vision care, and ocular diseases.
  • Pass optometry admission test (OAT): You must also pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), which is a computerized exam. OAT applicants take examinations on several subject areas: comprehension, reading, science, physics, plus quantitative reasoning.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is a requirement in all states. This is important to learn how to become an optometrist. To get your license, you must have received your O.D. from an accredited school and must have passed all sections of the exams from the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

In addition, some states require you to pass an additional exam on law or a clinical exam. You will also be required to undergo continuing education and to periodically renew your license. Each state has a Board of Optometry, which provides information on their licensing requirements.

To obtain validation of an advanced level of knowledge, you may opt to acquire certification from the American Board of Optometry.

Important Qualities of an Optometrist

  • Superior decision-making skills: As an optometrist, you must be able to evaluate the results of various diagnostic tests on a patient, and then decide the best treatment course for the patient.
  • Good interpersonal skills: You will spend a lot of time examining patients, so part of how to become an optometrist is to be able to help your patients feel comfortable.
  • Good speaking skills: You must be able to explain clearly eye care instructions to your patients, and answer their questions.

What Does an Optometrist Do?

  • Optometrists examine patients, diagnose and treat disorders of the eye and visual system.
  • As an optometrist, you may also recognize systemic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes in your patients.
  • Although people often think that optometrists only do routine eye exams and fitting of glasses or contact lenses, they can also treat other eye problems, including eye injuries, visual skill problems like inability to fixate, move and focus the eyes, and diseases like glaucoma.
  • Optometrists also deal with technology, with almost 90% helping to manage patients who have undergone refractive eye surgery (laser surgery).
  • Most optometrists provide primary care, but some specialize in particular treatments or populations like pediatric patients, infants, athletes (sports vision), people with learning disabilities, patients for low vision rehabilitation, and patients who sustained head trauma.
  • Optometrists differ from ophthalmologists who have a medical degree and can diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of the eye as well as perform eye surgery.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Optometrist?

It takes 7 to 9 years to become an optometrist. The first 3-4 years involve undergraduate coursework, then another four years specializing in optometry. After getting the degree, you may opt to complete an internship program to specialize in a field of interest for one more year.

Watch this video for more information on how to become an optometrist and daily life of an optometrist:

How Much Does an Optometrist Make?

The 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that the average annual income of optometrists is $113,000. Those who work in physician offices receive the highest pay, with an average annual income of $139,000. Optometrists from these states receive the highest income: Alaska, Connecticut, New Mexico, North Dakota, andOklahoma.

Job Outlook

The BLS reports that from 2012 to 2022, optometrists are expected to see a 24% growth in opportunities for employment, which is faster than the average. There is an increasing demand for vision care as expected, as the population ages and grows in number. It is also projected that there will be an increase in job growth, which may be driven by health insurance companies that include vision care in their clients’ health plans.

Where Can I Find More Information About Optometrist?

  • For information on specific admission requirements and sources of financial aid, contact the admissions officers of individual optometry schools.
  • For more information about the national board exam, visit National Boards of Examiners in Optometry.
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