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What is an Ophthalmologist?

Who are the Members of Your Eye Care Team?

Ophthalmologists, optometrists, opticians and ocularists all provide crucial eye care services. It is important to understand what each of the "Os” is qualified to do. A National Consumers' League (NCL) survey found that many consumers are confused about the differences among various eye care providers, the services they perform, and the training and education they must complete  (

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An ophthalmologist, or Eye MD, is a physician, either a Doctor of Medicine, MD, or Doctor of Osteopathy, DO. An ophthalmoloigst is a medical doctor who graduates from medical school, specializes in all aspects of eye care including

  • Anatomy, function, diseases of the eye
  • Vision services
  • Prescribing glasses and contact lenses
  • Eye examinations
  • Diagnosis and medical management or eye diseases or disorders
  • Delicate surgical eye care of ocular diseases and disorders
  • Diagnose general diseases of the body
  • Treat ocular manifestations of systemic diseases
  • Prevention of eye disease and surgery
  • Scientific research into causes, cures for eye diseases, vision problems
  • Licensed by state regulatory board

Ophthalmologists routinely conduct many of the same tasks as optometrists. There are twice as many practicing optometrists as ophthalmologists, but ophthalmologists perform about one-fourth of the nation's refractions and eye examinations (“The Eye Care Team - American Academy of Ophthalmology”)


Ophthalmology education and training is a minimum of twelve years of training which includes

Four or more years of college premedical education

Four or more years of medical school

Extensive clinical and surgical training, thousands of hours in care and treatment of sick patients

  • One year of internship
  • Hospital-based residency with at least three years’ specialized eye care medical, surgical, refractive training, experience
  • Hospital-based eye residency program training includes:
    • Providing eye disease diagnosis, treatment of 3000 to 5000 patients
    • Four hundred plus hours in basic and clinical eye disease and treatment; prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses.
    • At least 60  hours/week providing medical care to patients, including eye disease treatment,  cataract surgery, strabismus, corneal disease, retinal and vitreous disease, oculoplastics, and trauma, supervised by top medical university professors
    • Intensive in-hospital training in eye emergencies, eye and facial trauma, the coordination of care with other medical specialists in the management of system disease. (Source - American Academy of Ophthalmology)
    • Optional fellowship of 1 or more years of subspecialty training
  • A total of twelve or more total years of education and training

(“The Eye Care Team - American Academy of Ophthalmology”)



An optometrist does not attend medical school, but instead graduates from a four-year college of optometry with a Doctor of Optometry degree. An optometrist is licensed to practice optometry which includes

  • Examination, diagnosis, optometric treatment of conditions and visual or muscular anomalies of human eye
  • Prescribing, dispensing corrective lenses
  • Vision screenings for presence of defects or abnormal conditions corrected or relieved by lenses, prisms, ocular exercises, visual training or orthoptics
  • Uses testing appliances to measure range or power of vision
  • Determine accommodative or refractive states of the human eye
  • Uses testing appliances for the purpose of the measurement of the powers of vision
  • TPA certified optometrist may treat certain diseases, abnormal conditions of human eye and adnexa with therapeutic pharmaceutical agents (TPA) as specified by law (Source: Virginia Code, 54.1-3220).

Optometric training includes

  • Three to four years of college
  • Four years at a college of optometry
  • Refractive errors
  • Average of one year of didactic training in medical, pharmaceutical, ocular subjects (“The Eye Care Team - American Academy of Ophthalmology”).



An optician is a technician who fills prescriptions from licensed physicians or optometrists, including

  • Preparing, dispensing eyeglasses, spectacles, lenses, or related appurtenances
  • Duplicates or reproduces previously prescribed and prepared eyeglasses, spectacles, lenses, or related appurtenances
  • Measures, adapts, fits, and adjusts eyeglasses, spectacles, lenses, or appurtenances, to the human face as specified by law. (Source: Virginia Code, 54.1-1700)



An ocularist is an eye professional, an artist who restores the “appearance of eye lost to trauma, disease, or congenital malformation." A surgeon, may refer a patient to an ocularist who creates a custom prosthetic eye for the patient ("The Fourth O in Eyecare." AMA Virtual Mentor, December 2012, Volume 12, Number 12: 950-954).

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