Optometrist Career Growth

Optometrists are eye care professionals who undertake a range of activities in caring for vision. After working as an optometrist, some professionals may wish to grow their careers in specific areas of optometry, research, management, or eye surgery.

Career Growth Opportunities for Optometrists

Optometrists are eye care professionals. They are responsible for primary eye care and vision screening. They may prescribe glasses, contact lenses, and medications that are needed for specific eye conditions. Optometrists enter the field with a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.). After working as an optometrist, some professionals may wish to grow their careers. They might specialize in an area of optometry such as low vision rehabilitation optometry, undertake a managerial role as a senior optometrist, research medical conditions related to the eye, or work with complex eye conditions as an ophthalmologist. Details on these options are presented below.

Job Title Median Salary (2018) Job Growth (2016-2026)* Education or Experience
Medical Scientist $82,090 (2017)* 13% Research fellowship
Senior Optometrist $102,928 (2018)*** 19% (medical and health services managers, offices of optometrists) Experience in optometry
Low Vision Rehabilitation Optometrist $130,729 (2018)** 18% (all optometrists) Diplomate from AAO
Ophthalmologist $204,580 (2018)*** 13% (all physicians and surgeons) Medical degree and residency

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Glassdoor, ***

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Career Information

Medical Scientist

Some optometrists may wish to advance their careers by performing research related to eye health and eye care as a medical scientist. Medical scientists undertake studies that help to create treatments or preventative techniques for various health conditions. They may collaborate with other doctors, public health professionals, and researchers. Medical researchers typically have a Ph.D. or degree in medicine in the area of research in which they are specializing. Dual degree programs such as an O.D./Ph.D. are available for optometry students who may be interested in research positions. Postdoctoral fellowships are available to train medical professionals in research techniques.

Senior Optometrist

Another option for optometrists who are seeking growth opportunities is to supervise other optometrists as a senior optometrist. A senior optometrist manages the optometry office to ensure appropriate patient care. Typically, a senior optometrist is responsible for areas of optometry care such as diagnostic testing and the prescribing of glasses or contact lenses. A senior optometrist also reviews and monitors the work of other office staff members. He or she is responsible for ensuring that the specialized eye equipment is functioning appropriately and for other budgeting and financial matters. Typically, one would become a senior optometrist after having extensive experience in the field.

Low Vision Rehabilitation Optometrist

One way for an optometrist to advance their career is to enter a specialty area of optometry. An option to examine may be that of a low vision rehabilitation optometrist. These optometrists work closely with patients to help them handle medical conditions that may result in difficulty seeing, such as macular degeneration. Low vision rehabilitation optometrists design ways to allow these patients to take part in the activities of daily life, such as using computers and driving when possible. They prescribe different technological solutions including lighted magnifiers and hand-held telescopes. To be recognized as a low vision rehabilitation optometrist, candidates must become a diplomate in this area with the American Academy of Optometry (AAO) by undergoing a process which includes presenting case reports and taking several examinations.


Some optometrists may desire to be able to remedy patient's eye conditions through surgery. These professionals may wish to expand their careers to become ophthalmologists. Also called ocular surgeons, these doctors specialize in treating complex problems of the eye that may require surgery. They also work on treating eye conditions that are a side effect of chronic illness. Some may focus further on specific eye surgeries, including laser eye surgery or glaucoma treatments. Ophthalmologists may also be involved in research regarding the treatment of eye disorders. Ophthalmologists must graduate from medical school and then complete a three-year residency.

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