Income of an Eye Doctor: What Do Eye Doctors Earn?

The amount of money an eye doctor earns is dependent upon a number of factors, including job title, employer and the type of work performed. Learn about how much optometrists and ophthalmologists can expect to make, as well as find out educational requirements.

Salary Overview

There are two types of eye doctors in the United States, optometrists and ophthalmologists. Optometrists test for and diagnose vision problems, prescribe eyewear and medications and provide eye therapy and rehabilitation treatments. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in performing eye surgery, treating and diagnosing eye injuries and diseases and prescribing eyewear. The income of an eye doctor depends on the type of doctor one is, among other factors like work experience and employer.

Salaries for Optometrists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary of an optometrist in May 2013 was $101,290, with most making between $52,720 and $185,320 per year (www.bls.gov). Offices of other health practitioners, which paid an average wage of $108,460, employed the most optometrists. Physicians' offices offered them an average wage of $133,580, which was the highest wage by industry.

PayScale.com reported in May 2014 that entry-level optometrists earned a median wage of $90,000, while those at the mid-career level made a median wage of $100,000. The most experienced earned a median wage of $110,000.

Salaries for Ophthalmologists

PayScale.com reported in May 2014 that ophthalmologists earned a median wage of $191,220, with most making between $101,810 and $351,207 a year. While entry-level professionals earned a median wage of $154,000, mid-career ophthalmologists earned a median wage of $210,000. The most experienced earned a median salary of $235,000.

The BLS groups ophthalmologists with its category for all other physicians and surgeons not listed separately. Those working for physicians' offices made an average wage of $218,860 in May 2013, while those working for general hospitals made an average salary of $143,660.

Education Requirements

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists need to earn accredited doctoral degrees and meet licensure requirements. However, program coursework and licensure exam contents differ for these professionals.

Optometrists

Optometrists typically complete a 4-year Doctor of Optometry degree program from an accredited optometry school. Courses include optics, vision science, pharmacology and biochemistry. Students learn in the classroom as well as in the laboratory. Clinical training courses cover diagnosing and treating eye disorders.

Postgraduate clinical residency programs are available for optometrists who wish to specialize in a particular area of optometry. Specializations include areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, family practice, vision therapy, ocular surgery and low-vision rehabilitation.

Licensure

Licensure requirements include earning a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited school of optometry and passing a national board examination and a state, regional or national clinical examination. Optometrists must renew their licenses every one to three years. Continuing education credits are required for maintaining licensure.

Ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists typically complete four years of undergraduate studies, four years of medical school, at least one year of clinical training, at least three years in a hospital residency program and one or more years in a subspecialty fellowship. Coursework includes topics such as anatomy, pathology, physiology, pharmacology, epidemiology, refraction and optics. Residency specialty areas include oculoplastics, medical and surgical retina, glaucoma and comprehensive, pediatric and neuro-ophthalmology.

Licensure

All U.S. physicians and surgeons, including ophthalmologists, must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The exam consists of three steps that cover topics such as anatomy, scientific principles, therapeutics, clinical knowledge, health maintenance, clinical skills, surgery and pharmacology. In order to take the first two steps of the exam, students must either currently be enrolled in an accredited medical school or have graduated from an accredited medical school. In order to take step three of the exam, students must have already graduated from an accredited school of medicine.

Related Careers

Opticians, orthoptists and ocularists are sometimes thought of as eye doctors, although they are not actual medical doctors. However, opticians, orthoptists and ocularists do work very closely with optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Manufacturing opticians make eyeglasses and contact lenses. Dispensing opticians help patients pick out eyewear and make sure the eyewear fits properly. They may also repair broken frames and show patients how to properly care for their eyewear. Orthoptists evaluate, diagnose and treat eye disorders such as binocular vision and impaired eye movement. Ocularists fit and make artificial eyes, such as a glass eye.

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