Comparing Optometrists to Nurse Practitioners
Optometrists and nurse practitioners aim to make people well and improve their quality of life by prescribing certain treatments. There are, however, vast differences between their degrees, career outlooks, and daily roles.
|Job Title||Educational Requirements||Median Salary (2016)*||Job Growth (2016-2026)*|
|Optometrists||Doctoral or professional Degree||$106,140||17%|
|Nurse Practitioners||Master's Degree||$100,910||36%|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Responsibilities of Optometrists vs. Nurse Practitioners
Optometrists and nurse practitioners typically receive special licensing to assist patients. Additionally, both can work in medical offices and see the same patients on a regular basis. Optometrists focus on evaluating people's vision and prescribing glasses. Nurse practitioners, however, diagnose a patient's overall health and diagnose issues based on their symptoms.
As they perform tests on a patient's visual acuity and ability to focus, optometrists typically analyze the results in real time and determine the need for corrective lenses. Based on the need, they may prescribe glasses or contacts. This requires the optometrist to fit the patient for glasses or measure parts of the eye for contacts. They may also use topography and confocal microscopy to diagnose corneal diseases. If necessary, they may prescribe medications for corneal damage or infection that also effect a patient's sight. Finally, optometrists can diagnose glaucoma, astigmatism, and even color blindness.
Job responsibilities of an optometrist include:
- Treating lazy eyes using rehabilitative treatments
- Working with patients receiving eye surgery, such as laser therapy
- Analyzing the health of the eye and nerves to catch diabetes or hypertension earlier
- Getting dust, metal, or hair out of the eye
By encouraging lifestyle changes related to diet and physical activity, nurse practitioners treat patients in a holistic way. Part of their role is coaching patients on how to manage their diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic illness. Of course, the patients they see may depend on the population they chose to specialize in, like the elderly or children. Depending on what state they practice in, these professionals may or may not have the authority to treat patients without the supervision of a doctor. They may still choose to consult a doctor, however, when they are interpreting a patient's symptoms and attempting to diagnose them.
Job responsibilities of a nurse practitioner include:
- Utilizing a patient's medical and family history to help diagnose his or her condition
- Ordering X-rays, blood work, and brain scans to also help diagnose a patient
- Prescribing medications
- Completing age and gender-appropriate physical examinations, such as pap smears or prostate exams
Before officially committing to a career as an optometrist, you could explore a job as an ophthalmologist because both deal with a patient's vision. Similarly, because a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant both meet with and treat patients, you could look into that careers as well.