Eye Doctor 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 2014 was $113,010, with most making between $52,270 and $132,580 per year. Offices of other health practitioners employed the most optometrists, and these employers paid optometrists an average wage of $109,430. Physicians' offices offered optometrists an average wage of $139,050, which was the highest wage by industry.
PayScale.com reported in January 2016 that entry-level optometrists earned a median wage of $97,667, while those at the mid-career level made a median wage of $102,362. The most experienced earned a median wage of $111,001.
Salaries for Ophthalmologists
PayScale.com reported in January 2016 that ophthalmologists earned a median wage of $198,386, with most making between $100,364 and $346,068 a year. 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 $223,580 in May 2014, while those working for general hospitals made an average salary of $144,870.
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Education and Licensure 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 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 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 typically complete four years of undergraduate studies, four years of medical school, and at least three years in a hospital residency program. Medical school coursework with a focus toward ophthalmology may cover topics in anatomy, pathology, physiology, pharmacology, epidemiology, and optics. Residency specialty areas include oculoplastics, medical and surgical retina, glaucoma, pediatric, and neuro-ophthalmology.
All U.S. physicians and surgeons with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, including ophthalmologists, must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to obtain licensure. Individuals may have to meet state-specific requirements as well.