What Does an Optometrist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

An optometrist examines a patient
••• Thomas Northcut / Digital Vision / Getty Images

An optometrist, also called a Doctor of Optometry or O.D. for short, provides primary vision care. He or she diagnoses and treats eye injuries, diseases, and other visual disorders. If a patient needs vision correction, an optometrist will prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Some optometrists specialize in a particular clientele, for example, pediatric or geriatric patients, or a type of treatment such as low vision or post-operative care.

Optometrist Duties & Responsibilities

This job requires candidates to be able to perform duties that include the following:

  • Perform comprehensive eye exams
  • Perform vision tests and analyze results
  • Diagnose and treat ocular issues and diseases such as farsightedness or glaucoma
  • Prescribe corrective lenses and fit contact lenses
  • Build strong doctor-patient relationships
  • Handle eyecare emergencies
  • Evaluate patients for other health issues such as diabetes, and refer to other healthcare providers as necessary

Optometrists must be able to provide comprehensive eye care to patients, which includes everything from routine check-ups to treatment and ongoing management of visual disease or injury. Many optometrists provide care to specialized groups of individuals, such as children or the elderly. Optometrists may also need to counsel patients on other health issues such as smoking or obesity, and how that can affect ocular health.

Optometrist Salary

The salary for optometrists varies by location, and they tend to earn higher wages than the national average:

  • Median annual salary: $110,300 ($53.03/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $190,090 ($91.39/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $53,740 ($25.84/hour)

Education, Training & Certifications

Most individuals seeking to become an optometrist will have completed a bachelor's degree emphasizing pre-medical or biological sciences. At a minimum, three years of postsecondary education is required before enrolling in an O.D. program, with coursework in chemistry, biology, math, English, and physics.

  • Optometry Admission Test (OAT): Before acceptance into an optometry school, applicants must take and pass an entrance exam called the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) which the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry sponsors. The test has four sections that cover science, physics, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.
  • Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree: If you want to become an optometrist, you must complete a four-year program at an accredited optometry school. You will earn a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. You can find a list of programs accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education on the American Optometric Association website.
  • Residency: After receiving an O.D. degree, some optometrists choose to participate in a one-year residency to acquire specialized training. The training combines classroom instruction and clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed optometrist. If you want to specialize in a particular area of practice, you will need to do post-graduate clinical training in that area.
  • National Board of Examiners in Optometry license: To practice anywhere in the United States, you must become licensed. In addition to earning an OD degree from an accredited program, you will have to pass the National Board of Optometry exam, a four-part exam administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.
  • State licensing exam: Some states require individuals to pass another clinical exam or an exam that covers the state's laws related to optometry.
  • Certifications: Optometrists wishing to demonstrate a more advanced or in-depth level of learning can take an exam to become board-certified by the American Board of Optometry.
  • Continuing education: Continuing education coursework is usually required to maintain licensure.

Optometrist Skills & Competencies

You will learn the technical aspects of your job through formal training, but you won't learn all the soft skills, or personal qualities, you need to succeed in this field. They are:

  • Active Listening and detail orientation: The importance of excellent listening skills cannot be emphasized enough. These skills will allow you to understand what your patients are telling you so you can respond appropriately with the proper treatment and medications.
  • Verbal Communication: You will have to convey information to your patients clearly. Stellar speaking skills will make that possible.
  • Interpersonal Skills: In addition to strong listening and verbal communication skills, you must be able to "read" your patients' non-verbal signals, as well as persuade and instruct them.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for optometrists over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is strong, driven by the eye care needs of an aging baby-boomer population.

Employment is expected to at about 18 percent over the next ten years, which is faster growth than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. Growth for other health-diagnosing and treating practitioners is projected to grow slightly slower, at 16 percent over the next ten years.

These growth rates compare to the projected 7 percent growth for all occupations. There are 20 accredited optometry schools in existence, which limits the number of licensed optometrists, providing good job prospects.

Work Environment

Optometrists work in exam rooms, using tools to examine and test patients' vision. More than 50 percent work in standalone optometrist offices, while some work in physician's offices or health and personal care stores.

The office may be fast-paced and busy, although some employers limit patient appointments to two per hour so the optometrist can provide the highest quality of care. A small percentage of optometrists are self-employed or work for a government employer.

Work Schedule

Optometrists typically work 40 hours per week. Some employers may require optometrists to work Saturdays as part of their 40-hour weekly schedule. Optometrists may also work weeknights to accommodate their patients' schedules.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in optometry also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries: