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Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist

Eye Care Provider Facts

  • When you need to visit an eye-care professional, it is important to make sure that you see the person who is most qualified to take care of any concerns or problems that you may have regarding your eyes.
  • The main types of eye-care professionals are
    • ophthalmologists,
    • optometrists, and
    • opticians.
    • Ocularists and ophthalmic technicians work closely with these specialists.
  • Your primary-care provider (PCP), internist, pediatrician, general practice physician (GP), urgent-care doctor, or emergency-room doctor can assist you with a referral to the appropriate eye-care professional.


Ophthalmologists are physicians, either a doctor of medicine (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO), who have graduated from college with a bachelor's degree and then completed four years of medical school, at least one year of internship, and three or more years of residency training specializing in medical and surgical care of eye diseases. Ophthalmologists may have also completed one or more years of subspecialty fellowship training in a specific area of ophthalmology, such as retina, cornea, glaucoma, pediatrics, oculoplastics, refractive surgery, uveitis (inflammation of the eye), pathology, or neuro-ophthalmology.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who are licensed by the state to practice medicine and to perform surgery. They can deliver total eye care, including performing a complete eye examination, prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses, diagnosing and treating eye diseases, and performing surgery on the eyes and the area around the eye. Ophthalmologists usually practice in groups of other ophthalmologists or in multi-specialty practices with other physician specialists. Solo practices, however, remain popular, particularly in smaller communities.

Having completed medical school, ophthalmologists are often more aware of how different diseases may affect the eye and how different findings noted during an eye examination may indicate serious disease elsewhere in the body. In addition, ophthalmologists have a keen understanding of how medications prescribed by other physicians can cause unintentional side effects to the eye and how ocular medications can affect the rest of the body or may interfere with other health conditions.

Diseases treated by ophthalmologists include but are not limited to: 

The most common surgical procedures performed by ophthalmologists include cataract extraction with intraocular lens (IOL) implantation, laser capsulotomy for routine post-cataract membranes, and injections into the vitreous cavity to treat potentially blinding wet macular degeneration. Other procedures performed by ophthalmologists include glaucoma surgeries, filters, laser treatment for glaucoma, refractive eye surgery including LASIK and PRK, lid lifts (ptosis repair or blepharoplasty), retinal detachment repair, diabetic retinal laser therapy, laser treatments for macular degeneration, vitrectomy, naso-lacrimal drainage surgery for excess tearing (epiphora), and strabismus (eye muscle) surgery.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/5/2016
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Opticians are trained in filling prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. They may have received significant formal classroom instruction, but many receive on-the-job training. Depending on a particular state's regulations, opticians may or may not be licensed.

Opticians help in determining the best eyeglass frames to suit your needs. In addition, they ensure that eyeglass frames are adequately adjusted, and if necessary, they can also repair broken eyeglass frames. In some states, opticians may be licensed to fit contact lenses. Opticians often work closely within the same practice as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, or an optician may have an independent practice.

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