The difference between a doctor of optometry (optometrist), an ophthalmologist and an optician is a common question among both healthcare professionals and the general public. The levels of training and expertise, and the core competencies, are different for each type of eye care provider.
Doctors of optometry:
When it comes to vision and eye health, the primary healthcare provider is your doctor of optometry. A doctor of optometry has completed a Bachelor of Science degree or higher, followed by a four year doctor of optometry degree from an accredited university’s school of optometry. A doctor of optometry is educated, clinically trained and licensed to deliver the best standard of comprehensive primary eye care. Your doctor of optometry will:
- Provide an optometric eye exam to examine, assess, measure and diagnose disorders and diseases within the human eye and visual system, such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration;
- Recognize and co-manage related systemic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and brain tumors;
- Fit and dispense eyewear, including glasses, sunglasses, contact lenses, safety eyewear and low-vision aids to ensure they meet your vision and eye health needs;
- Most can prescribe medications (this varies by province so ask your doctor of optometry for details);
- Remove foreign bodies from the eye;
- Provide referrals to secondary specialists, such as ophthalmologists, for treatment of systemic disease or eye surgery when necessary;
- Co-manage pre and post-operative care for laser vision correction;
- Co-manage ocular diseases with ophthalmologists; and
- Conduct research and promote education and advancement in the visual sciences.
Ophthalmologists are surgeons and specialists in eye disease. They have completed a Bachelor Degree and four years of medical school at an accredited university, as well as a residency in medical and surgical care of the eyes in an accredited university hospital. They are secondary-level healthcare providers and patients usually require a referral from their doctor of optometry to obtain an appointment for medical or surgical treatment such as cataract surgery.
Opticians are the third member of the eye care team. They are trained through a college program to fabricate and fit vision aids, such as glasses, based on the prescription of a doctor of optometry or physician. Opticians are licensed to provide spectacles, and they may also dispense contact lenses and other optical aids. They do not assess, diagnose, or treat eye conditions, nor can they check or write prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses.