Optician Vs. Ophthalmologist

Dec 06, 2017

These eye care professionals differ in their responsibilities, salaries, and degree requirements, but their career outlooks and desire to help people see better are shared. Let's explore the duties, salary, required education and job growth of both positions.

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Comparing Opticians to Ophthalmologists

Opticians are focused on fitting customers the best corrective lenses for their needs and budgets, while ophthalmologists diagnose and treat issues with the eye. Readers can learn about more duties of each of these professionals, as well as the degrees they are required to procure, the amount they earn, and the growth in the job market for each position.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Opticians High school diploma or equivalent $35,530 15%
Ophthalmologists Doctoral or professional Degree $202,308 (2017)** 15% (Physicians and Surgeons)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

Responsibilities of Opticians vs. Ophthalmologists

Opticians and ophthalmologists work with patients who need to correct their vision. The former are not required to receive any formal education to complete their tasks. The latter go through years of university, medical, and specialized training. Similarly, opticians focus on selling glasses, contacts, and services to patients, but they do not prescribe these corrective lenses. Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, are specialized surgeons who uniquely perform procedures on parts of the eye.


Opticians verify a patient's prescription to ensure it is input into the patient's file correctly. To improve the fit of the prescription, they measure the patient's face and the distance between their pupils. For opticians, finding a customer the best frames for their vocation means being an expert in options like antireflective coating and tints. Knowing a patient's needs allows these professionals to help them order the best brand and quantity of contacts for their budget. Additionally, they generate instructions for grinding and fitting lenses into frames for each work order that goes to technicians who make glasses.

Job responsibilities of an optician include:

  • Showing customers how to insert, remove, and clean contacts
  • Fixing broken frames using screws or even heating elements of the frame to bend them back into shape
  • Ensuring the fit of glasses and making adjustments to the nose pieces or arms if necessary
  • Ordering new frames, sample contacts, eyeglass cleaning products, and glasses cases


Ophthalmologists become qualified through fellowship and residency training to perform surgery on eyes and optical systems. They also gain certification from ophthalmology boards. Though they specialize in specific procedures, they can perform surgery on cataracts, glaucoma, and even eye muscles to correct crossed eyes. Additionally, they can complete reconstructive surgery on the eyeball, eyelid, and optical nerve on those who have extensive damage. To diagnose a patient based on their symptoms, they may first perform their own exam beyond that of the referring optometrist to see the extent of the issue and provide a second opinion.

Job responsibilities of an ophthalmologist include:

  • Recording a patient's medical history and referring to it during appointments
  • Prescribing glasses and contacts for pre- or post-operative patients
  • Using lasers to perform Lasik surgery
  • Providing follow-up care for patients healing from surgery

Related Careers

As someone researching a position as an optician, you could consider a position as an ophthalmic lab technician because these professionals both work with eye prescriptions. Additionally, if a career as an ophthalmologist interests you, so might a career as an optometrist since both are doctors who aim to improve a person's vision.

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