How to Become an Optometrist

If you have an interest in the medical field, possess excellent interpersonal skills and are good at making decisions, you might be wondering how to become an optometrist. Optometry is the discipline of medicine that focuses on vision and eye disorders and diseases. Optometrists are doctors who are specially educated and trained to evaluate and correct patients’ vision. They diagnose and treat eye disorders and visual impairments through the use of eyeglasses, contact lenses and eye medications.

Optometrists evaluate patients’ visual acuity through the use of vision tests. If problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness exist, the optometrist will prescribe contact lenses or eyeglasses. Optometrists also instruct patients on caring for these corrective medical devices, especially contact lenses, which can become infected or lead to other eye problems if not cleaned and worn correctly. They also test patients for other eye conditions and prescribe medications, often taken as liquid eye drops, to treat eye diseases and vision disorders. Though the names are similar, optometrists differ from ophthalmologists, who perform eye surgeries, and dispensing opticians, who provide eyeglasses or contact lenses as prescribed by optometrists.

The first step in preparing for a career as an optometrist is earning a bachelor’s degree, often in a science major such as biology. Some schools offer pre-optometry programs for undergraduate students. Upon completing at least three years of undergraduate college courses, aspiring optometrists can take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and begin applying to four-year optometry programs. Like other types of doctors, optometrists must complete advanced schooling to become qualified to practice. Instead of pursuing a general Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, they earn a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. Their academic career will include four years of graduate-level coursework in biochemistry, anatomy, physiology and, of course, eye disorders and diseases. Aspiring optometrists begin gaining clinical experience during their education, and many choose to increase their skills and knowledge after graduation by completing one-year residency programs. Like other medical professionals, optometrists must obtain state licensure to practice, and they must continue to maintain their license over the course of their careers through continuing their education.

Optometrists earn a median salary of $94,990 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Experienced optometrists have the potential to earn six-figure salaries. The career opportunities for this occupation are rapidly increasing. The BLS anticipates 33 percent job growth for optometrists over the ten-year period from 2010 through 2020, as compared to only 14 percent job growth expected for all occupations. CNN Money ranked the occupation twelfth on its 2012 “Best Jobs in America” list, citing salary, convenient hours and the personal satisfaction of helping patients correct their eyesight. If you enjoy working with people, have the scientific aptitude to be part of the medical field and the decision-making skills to determine the best treatment options for patients, knowing how to become an optometrist could be the start of a thriving new career in the growing health care industry.

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