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Education and Training: College plus optometry school

Salary: Median—$88,410 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Optometrists examine eyes and treat vision problems, usually by prescribing eyeglasses or contact lenses, vision therapy, or rehabilitation programs. They also prescribe medicines to treat some eye diseases and allergies.

Optometrists examine patients' eyes with several instruments. Retinoscopes, for example, help them see how patients react to lenses of different strengths. Ophthalmoscopes allow them to see the inside of the eye. Based on their examinations, they make diagnoses, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, and prescribe lenses or other treatments. If they diagnose eye diseases that need surgery, they refer patients to ophthalmologists (physicians who perform eye surgery). Sometimes optometrists discover eye conditions caused by systemic problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and refer their patients to other medical doctors.

Most optometrists have their own practices or are associates in group practices. Others are employed in hospitals, clinics, and health or government agencies. Still others work for insurance companies; for manufacturers of eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other optical equipment; or for large eyewear chains. Some jobs involve the designing and testing of new products.

Education and Training Requirements

Most future optometrists complete fours years of college before enrolling in optometry schools, which offer four-year programs leading to doctor of optometry degrees. Some optometrists may want to specialize in work with the elderly, with children, with the partially sighted, or in vision therapy. They can study for master's degrees or doctorates, or they may enter one-year residency programs offered for certain optometric specialties.

Optometrists must be licensed. They must pass both a written National Board of Examiners in Optometry examination and a clinical board examination at the national, regional, or state level. Many states also require applicants to pass examinations on relevant state laws.

Getting the Job

Optometrists set up their own practices or begin by working with established optometrists. Jobs are also available in clinics, in private industry, and in health or government agencies. School placement offices and the American Optometric Association can offer career advice.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Many optometrists become self-employed after some years as salaried workers or as associates in group practices. Other optometrists specialize. Optometrists who have additional education and experience can move into jobs in teaching, research, or administration.

Employment for optometrists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. The maturing of the large baby-boom generation, together with rapid growth in the elderly population, should increase the demand for qualified optometrists. The growth of large eyewear chains will provide additional jobs. However, increased use of optometric assistants and more sophisticated equipment may affect employment is some geographic areas.

Working Conditions

Optometrists usually work in pleasant surroundings. Those in private practice may supervise assistants. In large offices, clinics, and health and government agencies, optometrists work as members of professional health-care teams. Most optometrists work forty-hour weeks, often including some evening and Saturday hours.

Optometrists have responsible jobs that require close contact with the public. They need manual dexterity and—especially if they are in private practice—business skills.

Where to Go for More Information

American Optometric Association
243 N. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63141
(800) 365-2219

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on experience, location, and area of specialization. In 2004 the median earnings of salaried optometrists were $88,410 per year. Benefits usually included paid holidays, sick days, and vacations and health insurance. Optometrists in private practice provided their own benefits.