Difference Between an Optician & an Optometrist

Opticians and optometrists are both in the business of eye care, though one position is more advanced than the other. Keep reading for information on what differentiates these careers.

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Comparing Opticians and Optometrists

Optometrists are medical professionals who diagnose vision problems and prescribe corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses. After a prescription is written, it is taken to an optician who fulfills the order and recommends the customer suitable frames.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Annual Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Opticians High school diploma or equivalent $35,530 (for all dispensing opticians) 24% (for all dispensing opticians)
Optometrists Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree $106,140 27%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Opticians vs. Optometrists

While both of optician and optometrists are eye care professionals, their responsibilities and job requirements are very different. Opticians typically just need secondary schooling and on-the-job training, though some may earn an associate degree or certificate. Optometrists, on the other hand, must complete an undergraduate program college as well as a four-year Doctor of Optometry program before passing their state board to become licensed. An optometrist performs eye exams, decides on treatments and writes prescriptions, whereas an optician fills prescriptions and fits people with eyeglasses accordingly. The latter is a type of technician, thus isn't authorized to diagnose, treat, or prescribe anything.

Opticians

The role of an optician is to order prescription eyeglasses and ensure they fit properly. Duties include measuring a person's face and helping them select spectacles, as well as adjusting and repairing frames. Optician's skills are learned on the job, although a technical school or community college program can provide additional training. The training is mostly hands on and may also involve customer service and sales practices. Opticians may work for independent businesses, department stores, or optometrist offices. Around half of U.S. states require opticians to be licensed.

Job responsibilities of an optician include:

  • Recommending eyewear, such as sunglasses, computer glasses, and goggles
  • Making work orders for ophthalmic laboratory technicians
  • Maintaining and stocking inventory
  • Keeping record of financial transactions and running other administrative duties
  • Educating customers on how to care for their optical devices

Optometrists

An optometrist tests a person's vision and examines their eyes. If the optometrist find an issue, they then determine if the patient needs corrective lenses, treatment, or referral to a specialist. Aside from completing an undergraduate education program and then earning their O.D. degree, some also complete a 1-year residency program to get specialized training. Furthermore, applicants to the O.D. program have to take a prerequisite exam. All optometrists must be licensed in their state.

Job responsibilities of an optometrist include:

  • Writing prescriptions for eyeglasses and contacts
  • Counseling patients about good eye health
  • Providing pre-and-post operative care for those having eye surgery
  • Providing treatments, such as low-vision rehabilitation
  • Performing minor surgical treatments
  • Referring patients to other professionals if they suspect a disease or illness contributing to impaired vision

Related Careers

Instead of working in a store as an optician, one could also consider a job as an ophthalmic lab tech, who makes and cuts lenses for glasses. Someone interested in optometry could also set their sights higher and become an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who performs major eye surgery in addition to some optometrist duties.

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