Best 6 differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist

The differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist are crystal clear and need not confuse you.

Oftentimes, people misunderstand these terms primarily because both deals with vision but there are a lot of differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist.

These differences may range from qualification, salary, function, and others.

Have you ever been in need of your eye care specialist? If yes, you will understand better and perfectly well the differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist. Both have their unique functions and requirements for those specialties.

How do you know which provider you should choose for your eye care? However, knowing the difference between optometrist and ophthalmologist is a proper guide depending on the service you need.

Overview of the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists

Is no doubt that most people who are not medically inclined get confused about the differences between optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Though they both deal with eye care, there are several common misconceptions between the two terms.

Ophthalmologists and optometrists both play an important role in providing eye care but their levels of training and expertise are quite different.

differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist

Optometrists are eye care professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes whereas an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care.

Difference between optometrist and ophthalmologist based on level of academic acquisition

Optometrists receive a doctor of optometry (OD) degree after completing four years of optometry school, preceded by at least three years of college. Depending on the country of study and the institution, some countries allow their students to spend 5-6 years of study in general before they will be awarded the doctor of optometry.

They are licensed to practice optometry which primarily involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases.

Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists in their levels of training and in what they can diagnose and treat. As a medical doctor who has completed college and at least eight years of additional medical training, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and surgery.

Difference between optometrist and ophthalmologist based on service they render

An optometrist works on less serious eye cases they are referred to as doctors however they are not medical doctors. They provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes. However, they can equally perform minor eye surgeries depending on the level of practice.

differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist

While ophthalmologists are trained to care for all eye problems and conditions, some specialize in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care.

This type of ophthalmologist is called a subspecialist. They usually complete one or two years of additional, more in-depth training in one of the main subspecialty areas such as glaucoma, retina, cornea, pediatrics, as well as others.

This added training and knowledge prepares an ophthalmologist to take care of more complex or specific conditions in certain areas of the eye or in certain groups of patients than an optometrist.

Your sight depends on seeing the right eye doctor at the right time so it’s important to know the difference between these eye professionals.

An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and prescribes and fits eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.

Differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist based on salary range

Among the differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist, salary is a great factor to be considered however, there are variations in salary depending on the health institution one is working in.

In 2018, the median salary for optometrists was $111,790, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist

However, on a general consideration, an ophthalmologist will earn higher than an optometrist if both are on the same grade and working at the same health institution.

In 2018, the average salary for ophthalmologists was $290,777 according to

Differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist based on specific functions

Optometrist (OD): Vision Care and Eye Care Services
  • Perform eye exams and vision tests
  • Manage and treat conditions like Dry Eye and glaucoma
  • Provide low-vision aids and vision therapy
  • Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • Monitor medically related eye conditions related to diseases like diabetes
Ophthalmologist: Medical and Surgical Eye Care
  • Vision services, including eye exams
  • Medical eye care for conditions like glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns
  • Surgical eye care for trauma, crossed eyes, cataracts, glaucoma, and other problems
  • Diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions related to other diseases, like diabetes or arthritis
  • Plastic surgery to raise droopy eyelids or smooth out wrinkles

Differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist based on level of surgeries they perform

Is essential to note that both optometrists and ophthalmologists can perform eye surgery depending on the medical law of a territory and the level of academic acquisition.

However, optometrists are limited in the surgeries they can perform depending on severity while ophthalmologists can perform any and all surgical depending on specialty.

Differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist based on duration spent in health or medical school

Different states and countries have different rules governing their health and medical institutions. On a general note, the time ophthalmologist spend in medical school are higher compared to that an optometrist will spend in the school of health.

Find out the duration of your study from the institution of your choice to know the exact duration of the study.

Can an optometrist become an ophthalmologist?

An optometrist can become an ophthalmologist. However, this comes with a different training entirely.

The academic requirements for you to be an optometrist include a DO (doctor of optometry) degree, which does not transfer to the field of ophthalmology.

To become an ophthalmologist, you must complete an MD or Ph.D. degree program, a residency in ophthalmology, and all the requirements for your state to become a licensed ophthalmologist.  As an optometrist who wishes to become an ophthalmologist, you will need to go to medical school for training.

Another term of consideration in the differences between optometrist and ophthalmologist

When you wish to take care of your eyes or have any vision impairment, aside optometrist and ophthalmologist, and term of consideration is the optician. You can visit an optician for routine care, adjustment, and refilling of prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Optician differs from optometrist and ophthalmologist in so many ways ranging from functions, training, salary recognition, and others. An optician is more like a customer service representative who works in a vision care store or an optometrist’s office.


An optician can become certified by completing a 1- to 2-year program, such as an associate’s program in ophthalmic dispensing, or may also become certified through an in-house apprenticeship under an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Opticians can also answer general eye care questions, but they cannot examine, diagnose, treat diseases or perform any eye surgery either minor or major.


Knowing the differences between optometrist, ophthalmologist, and optician will go a long way in helping you find the right person for your eye care. Also, it will assist you in your career choice.

Those professions are of utmost importance in every society and therefore, are to be supported at all levels.


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