Optometry vs ophthalmology: What’s the difference between these two? Think you might need new glasses or deal with those weird squiggles you keep seeing? With these concerns in mind, you might get confused which eye specialist you should go to–an optometrist or an ophthalmologist? Choosing the right one can be perplexing when you’re confronted with vision care listings for both ophthalmologists and optometrists.

Optometry Vs Ophthalmology: Knowing the Difference


At a “Glance”

At a “Glance” | Optometry Vs Ophthalmology: How Do They Differ?
Optometrists are healthcare professionals, rather than physicians, yet certainly, have a wealth of education and training to diagnose and treat vision problems and diseases. They also frequently conduct research into vision care advancement. If you present them with a problem that the optometrist doesn’t treat, he or she will refer you to an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmologists are physicians who can perform eye surgery. They have more training in vision care and generalized medicine than optometrists, and therefore can treat a broader range of patients, whether it’s for fitting contact lenses or performing eye surgery. Depending on the individual ophthalmologist, he or she may choose to see a broad range of patients or focus on specializing in a particular type of advanced vision disorder.

Which Should You “See”?

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Often, the type of practitioner you go to for a medical need is somewhat dictated by insurance. Optometrists are generally considered the primary eye care provider, meaning you’ll begin by visiting an optometrist. They can diagnose and treat many eye issues, but can’t perform surgery or prescribe as many medications. Those prescription privilege parameters are often dictated by local and state regulations.

Ophthalmologists may require a referral from an optometrist (or your general practitioner), depending on your insurance coverage. They can also perform eye surgery and prescribe a broader range of drug therapies.

Of course, the average person can’t always predict the root cause of his or her eye issue or remember the ins and outs of the “opt”s and “opht”s. Never hesitate to call either eye practitioner directly and/or your insurance provider, rather than become frustrated in the attempt to evaluate which practitioner is best for you.

Education and Training

Education and Training | Optometry Vs Ophthalmology: How Do They Differ?
Although they may not be required to log quite as much schooling and residency time as their ophthalmologist counterparts, optometrists certainly must complete their fair share of education and training before they can go into practice. Four years of undergraduate college, plus a further four years in optometry school, is the minimum required, which may be followed by at least a year in an optional residency. This totals at least eight years after high school.

Opthomologists are required to complete eight years at the undergraduate and medical levels of schooling, followed by at least four years of combined general surgical and eye-based, residencies. All ophthalmologists spend at least 12 years in training and education before going into practice.

What Do the Names Mean?

What Do the Names Mean? | Optometry Vs Ophthalmology: How Do They Differ?
That old expression “It’s all Greek to me!” is a logical one, because so many multisyllabic words in medicine seem to have either a Greek or Latin origin. In the case of optometry vs ophthalmology, both words stem from similar Greek “op” words for “sight” and “eye.” Optometry, which was created to refer to fitting glasses, literally translates as “to measure vision,” while ophthalmology means “the study of eyes.”

Of course, not only are the words similar-sounding, but their definitions have much overlap as well. For that reason, the modern medical delineations between the two medical practices are crucial to understand.

“Initial” Differences

“Initial” Differences | Optometry Vs Ophthalmology: How Do They Differ?
If you only have a list of eye doctor names to go by, it’s helpful to remember that optometrists have an “O.D.” after their names, which literally stands for “Optometry Doctor.” (In practice, it’s usually expressed as “doctor of optometry.”)

To make life a bit less confusing, the initials are reversed for the other major type of eye care professional. Ophthalmologists have a “D.O.” after their names, for Doctor of Ophthalmology. (Some may also use “M.D.,” for “Doctor of Medicine.”)


Understand optometry vs ophthalmology better by watching this video from OphthalmologyHamden:

Optometry Vs Ophthalmology: How Do They Differ?

Fortunately, despite their similar sounding names, “optometry vs ophthalmology” is not too complex to sort out, because there are clear differences between the two types of eye health professionals. And while there is some overlap, one type of vision care provider is likely best for your specific concern than the other.

Still confused about optometry vs ophthalmology? Share us your thoughts in the comments section below!

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