Ophthalmologist vs Optometrist
Specializing in eye and vision care, an ophthalmologist is primarily an Eye M.D. or D.O. (medical or osteopathic doctor). This professional is different from optometrists in terms of level of training and in the conditions that can be diagnosed and treated. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has completed a bachelor's degree in the sciences and at least eight years of additional medical training (4 years of medical school, 1 year of internship in general medicine, and a minimum of 3 years in a university and hospital-based residency specializing in ophthalmology). Therefore, this professional is licensed to practice medicine and surgery.
This eye doctor undergoes specialized training covering the different facets of eye care during residency, including the prevention, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of various eye conditions and diseases. That is, an ophthalmologist performs diagnosis and applies treatment to all eye diseases. If needed, this specialist performs eye surgery and prescribes and fits eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision issues. A number of ophthalmologists are also active in scientific research to determine the causes and cures of various eye conditions and vision disorders.
By contrast, an optometrist is an eye specialist with the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Similar to ophthalmologists, these professionals examine the eyes for vision issues, and they correct refractive errors also by prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. They also are licensed to prescribe medication to treat certain eye conditions and diseases, but their scope of medical care is determined by state law. In addition, as opposed to ophthalmologists, optometrists are not trained or licensed to perform eye surgery, with a few exceptions.
In terms of training, optometrists undergo four years of post-graduate training in optometry school after completing a four-year college degree in the sciences. Their period of training is therefore similar to that of a dentist. Similar to ophthalmologists, optometrists must undergo continuing education to maintain their licensure and stay updated with the latest standards of eye care.
Which Eye Specialist to Choose?
For routine eye exams, the type of doctor to choose is irrelevant. That's because both eye doctors perform routine eye checkups are trained to diagnose and treat eye diseases. However, it is important to note that most optometrists provide medical treatment for common eye issues such as conjunctivitis or infections and certain chronic eye conditions such as glaucoma. By contrast, an ophthalmologist is needed for certain eye disorders that require surgery or other special care.
Furthermore, you should see an ophthalmologist for some eye conditions that require specialization. An ophthalmologist has more in-depth training on different subspecialty areas such as the retina, cornea, neurology, and others. Therefore, seeing an ophthalmologist for special cases can increase the likelihood of complete treatment and recovery.