Be an Optometrist: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 02, 2019

Research the education and training requirements to become an optometrist. Learn about the job description, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in optometry.

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  • 0:04 Optometrist Career Info
  • 0:45 Get Undergraduate Degree
  • 1:17 Pass the OAT
  • 2:01 Complete Optometry School
  • 2:37 Become Licensed
  • 3:06 Develop a Specialization

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Optometrist Career Info

Optometrists are doctors who perform eye examinations, diagnose vision conditions, and prescribe corrective therapy. Optometrists differ from ophthalmologists, who are physicians with medical school training. Optometrists provide primary healthcare for specific eye conditions and refer patients who need surgery to ophthalmologists. Some optometrists work weekends and evenings to suit their patients' scheduling needs.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Professional doctorate degree
Degree Field Optometry (O.D.)
Licensure Licensing varies by state
Experience Post-doctoral residency programs for an additional specialization
Key Skills Decision-making and communication skills
Median Salary (2015) $103,900

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Get an Undergraduate Degree

In order to apply for acceptance to optometry school, a student must have completed at least three years of undergraduate study at an accredited university. Many prospective optometrists end up earning an undergraduate degree. They complete science-intensive coursework in biology, microbiology, chemistry, mathematics, anatomy, and statistics. Most colleges and universities require that applicants to a Doctor of Optometry, (O.D.) program take these specific undergraduate courses.

Step 2: Pass the OAT

A passing score on the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is required to be considered for acceptance into an optometry program. This exam, conducted by the Association of Schools and College of Optometry, measures basic academic ability and understanding of scientific knowledge. Four components make up the OAT, which include the natural sciences, physics, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.

The OAT can be taken after one year of undergraduate education. However, most students choose to complete two or more years before taking the examination. Students are allowed to take the computerized test as many times as they want, but a 90-day waiting period is required between attempts.

Step 3: Complete Optometry School

Admission to optometry school is very competitive. Because of this, students need to have earned high, passing scores on the OAT. Earning a Doctor of Optometry degree requires four years of study through an accredited optometry school. Optometry school coursework includes vision science, optics, biochemistry, and pharmacology. Students are also provided with hands-on clinical training. Graduate students are generally required to work as interns and externs in clinical settings. These students shadow optometric professionals and learn first-hand how to diagnose and treat patients.

Step 4: Become Licensed

Every state in the U.S. requires optometrists to be licensed. After graduating from a state-approved optometry program, applicants must pass written and clinical exams administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Regional and state clinical exams and state law exams may also be required. Licensure renewal varies by state, and it can be as often as every year for those that require it. Many states mandate that continuing education credits be earned for renewal.

Step 5: Develop a Specialization

Optometrists can complete optional residencies in a specialty area to receive further clinical training. Some optometry specialty areas include ocular disease and pediatric and geriatric optometry. While optometrists can perform primary eye care without doing a residency, some colleges do offer primary-care residencies that allow new optometrists to advance their competency in the field. Other optometrists choose to go into teaching, consulting, or research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is expected to have higher than average growth in coming years. Those with certifications and specializations will be most likely to see prospects for employment expand.

To recap quickly, aspiring optometrists must complete some years of an undergraduate program before they can take the OAT and be allowed into a Doctor of Optometry program, after which they can obtain licensure and find work in the field.

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