Ophthalmologists, Optometrists and Opticians

For those seeking eye care, many wonder what kind of help is available to them. This article is designed to provide simple explanations of the three main roles performed by professionals who specialize in eye health: Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, and Opticians. Their areas of expertise are different, but they all contribute to maintaining eye health around the world with their valuable care. Their common goal is to provide and improve vision worldwide.

Ophthalmologist (MD)

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye diseases and disorders. They complete medical school, fulfill a residency, and often join fellowships. They are licensed to provide medical advice. They perform medical examinations of eyes to diagnose and treat eye diseases and conditions. As surgeons, they remove cataracts and replace them with synthetic lenses to restore vision, they surgically repair eye trauma and they perform laser surgery on corneas to allow nearsighted people a chance to live without glasses. Ophthalmologists are licensed to prescribe medicine for eye diseases. They fit patients with corrective lenses. Some ophthalmologists perform biomedical research and are driving medicine forward towards better healthcare by finding new treatments for eye disease and working to better understand the mysteries of the eye.

Optometrist (OD)

Doctors of Optometry, as they are known in the United States and other countries, are health care professionals who perform different functions depending on where they practice. They complete optometry school.   Optometrists are primary eye care providers who specialize in fitting patients with contact lenses and glasses. Patients can receive medications from optometrists such as eye drops and oral medications.  In addition to normal optometry practice, some optometrists are trained to perform some basic surgeries of the eye. 


Opticians are technical practitioners who fit patients with glasses, contact lenses and other eyewear as prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. They do not diagnose eye disease or prescribe lenses. In many states they do not need a license to practice, but they are often certified by some training program or two-year college degree in opticianry. It is common practice for them to be trained through an apprenticeship. Their focus is to make sure the corrective eyewear or contact lenses are comfortable. 


The three main types of practitioners described in this article all work together to improve the eye health and vision of the patients they serve. Although around the world they may perform slightly different roles than they do in the United States, they all work towards this common goal. Patients seeking help to improve vision or eye health should be aware of all that these practitioners have to offer.

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