Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

Understanding the difference between ophthalmologists and optometrists can be confusing for people seeking vision and eye care. There is some overlap in certain areas between an optometrist vs. ophthalmologist, but there are also some very striking differences. Fortunately, once you have an understanding of what each of them do, you can know where to go to get the professional care that best fits your needs.

A Comparison Chart






An optometrist is a person who is qualified to examine the eyes and prescribe and supply contact lenses and glasses.

A physician specializing in eye and vision care, including any medical or surgical needs, and in the prevention of eye disease and injury.



They perform eye exams, prescribe and fit contact lenses and eye glasses. Treat conditions such as astigmatism, nearsightedness, farsightedness, and provide vision therapy and low vision aids.

They offer complete eye care services including medical eye care for conditions such as glaucoma, and chemical burns. Provide surgical needs for trauma, cataracts, and glaucoma. Treat other problems, such as diabetes or arthritis.


Ophthalmologists and Optometrists may work together to take care of you.

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

1. Optometrist

Optometrists, also known as Doctors of Optometry, are trained to treat and diagnose eye conditions such as astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness along with fitting and prescribing contact lenses and spectacles. The majority of their job focuses on eye exams and vision correction exams.

Education & Training

Optometrists undergo four years of undergraduate training and then four years of postgraduate doctoral training. Studies include eye disease diagnosis and treatment, pharmacology, vision therapy, physiology, optics, and anatomy. They must also pass nationally-administered exams in order to earn their licence to practice. Those that want to specialize in a particular area will also complete one year of postgraduate residency.

Optometrist Services

Optometrists provide eye exams, diagnose and treat conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. They prescribe medications to treat eye infections and conjunctivitis. Perform eye exams and fits for eyeglasses or contact lenses. Assist with preoperative and post-operative care after eye surgery, and provide for vision therapy when needed. 

2. Ophthalmologist

Ophthalmologists are physicians that are trained to perform surgery.The ophthalmologist is able to perform Lastic surgery, removal of cataracts, and any other surgical needs involving vision. They are trained to treat trauma,such as chemical burns, and detached retinas. Additionally, ophthalmologists are able to treat more complex eye conditions, and can prescribe a broader range of prescription drugs than optometrists.

Education & Training

Ophthalmologistsrequire at least four years of premedical undergraduate education, and four more years of medical school with one year of internship to receive a doctorate degree. They must also pass nationally-administered exams in order to earn their licence to practice. Once licenced, they face an additional residency of at least three years focussing on surgical eye care.

Ophthalmologist Services

Ophthalmologists are trained in vision services such as eye exams, vision correction, refraction, and lens prescription, but unlike optometrists, they are also trained in eye surgery. Ophthalmologists focus more on performing eye surgery because it is more profitable than the services of the optometrist. However, ophthalmologists and optometrists may work together to take care of you, and it’s usual for optometrists and ophthalmologists to work in the same office.

Which Eye Doctor Should I See, an Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist?

Now that you know the comparison between optometrist vs. ophthalmologist, here's more to consider.

Optometrists are perfectly capable of medically treating common eye problems, certain chronic eye disorders, and disease. Optometrists routinely perform eye exams, manage, and diagnose eye diseases that require non-medical and medical treatment. However, the optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist who specialises in treating your condition. More importantly, only ophthalmologists can provide treatment for trauma, including eye surgery, for both complex and minor eye disorders. If you currently have a medical problem such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, or cataracts. It is important to seek care by a specially trained ophthalmologist who is highly trained and licensed to perform eye surgery. The ophthalmologist might also be better suited to manage chronic eye health problems, especially if they are a specialist in the area. An ophthalmologist may choose to manage the problem medically or surgically, or a combination of both. After the condition is controlled or surgically treated, the ophthalmologist specialist may send you back to an optometrist for follow up care and eye therapy.

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