Optometrist Careers

NUMBER OF JOBS

32,400

JOB OPENINGS

11,000

JOB GROWTH

33%

AVG. SALARY

$45,000 /yr

$94.00 /hr

All Stats from BLS.gov

Optometrists keep patients’ eyes healthy. They diagnose and treat diseases and injuries to the eyes. They also perform eye exams and prescribe contact lenses and eyeglasses. They diagnose problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. They may also examine a patient’s eyes after surgery and provide follow-up care when needed.

Some optometrists are specialized. Some work only with people who have partial or no sight. Others specialize in pre- or post-operative care surrounding eye surgery. Some teach, or work as consultants for companies that produce glasses, contact lenses, and other eye care equipment.

Optometrists vs. Ophthalmologists

There is some overlap between optometry and ophthalmology. Both will treat eye diseases and both may prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. While an optometrist may perform some pre- or post-operative care, an ophthalmologist performs eye surgery.

While optometrists attend an optometry school for approximately four years, ophthalmologists attend medical school—and then a three-year residency in eye care. This qualifies them to treat more complex diseases and perform eye surgery.

How to Become an Optometrist

Earn a Bachelor’s degree. Classes in chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics are helpful, although a specific type degree is not required. While a Bachelor’s degree is generally required, some optometry schools will accept candidates with only three years of postsecondary education.

Earn a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. These programs are surprisingly rare in the US—there were only 20 accredited programs in the country as of 2011. The program takes approximately four years to complete, and includes both classroom and clinical experience.

Perform a residency. Some optometrists go on to undertake a year-long residency program to specialize in a certain area, such as vision therapy and rehabilitation, family practice and primary eye care, pediatric or geriatric optometry, or low vision optometry.

Earn a license. Optometry is regulated at the state level, and all practicing optometrists must be licensed. To earn a license, optometrists must earn a degree from an optometry school that has been accredited by the American Optometrics Association and pass the National Boards in Optometry. In some states, an additional exam is required. Optometrists in most states must take continuing education to keep their license up to date.

Optometry and Online Education

Optometry is not a profession open to accredited online degree programs in general. There are few schools offering fully online programs, and none are accredited by the AOA. However, some schools may allow you to have a few online credits in your Bachelor’s transcript—although usually only liberal arts subjects are accepted in this way. Be sure to check with the optometry school you want to attend before signing up.

Optometrist Salary

Optometrists earned a median wage of $94,990 as of 2010, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Those on the low end of the pay scale earned under $49,630, while those at the top earned over $166,400.

Job Growth for Optometrists

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, job growth in this area is expected to increase by 33%— fast growth compared to the national average for all occupations. Demand is expected to be fueled especially in the area of geriatric optometry, which is expected to grow as baby boomers retire—as well as an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes that can damage vision.

However, this is a fairly small occupation—and the fast growth may only mean the addition of approximately 10,000 new jobs nationwide.

Pros and Cons of Becoming an Optometrist

At eight or nine years of education, there is a high initial investment to enter this field—both in time and money. In addition, the number of jobs nationwide is fairly low—so there won’t be opportunities everywhere. However, there are also few accredited schools of optometry, meaning that there is not a glut of qualified professionals in the market—so people with the appropriate credentials in this field should still have good prospects.

Where to Find Optometrist Jobs:

SimplyHired
Indeed.com
CareerBuilder.com