Optometrists

Summary

optometrists image
Optometrists examine the eye and discuss treatment options with patients based on their findings.
Quick Facts: Optometrists
2012 Median Pay $97,820 per year
$47.03 per hour
Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 33,100
Job Outlook, 2012-22 24% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 8,100

What Optometrists Do

Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose, and treat visual problems, and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.

Work Environment

Most optometrists work in stand-alone offices of optometry. A small number of optometrists work in doctors’ offices, retail stores, outpatient clinics, and hospitals. Most work full time, and some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.

How to Become an Optometrist

Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering an O.D. program.

Pay

The median annual wage for optometrists was $97,820 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will require more optometrists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of optometrists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about optometrists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Optometrists Do About this section

Optometrists
Optometrists check patients for common vision problems, like near or farsightedness.

Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage disorders of the visual system, eye diseases, and injuries. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.

Duties

Optometrists typically do the following:

  • Perform vision tests and analyze results
  • Diagnose sight problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness and eye diseases, such as glaucoma
  • Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and medications
  • Provide treatments such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation
  • Provide pre- and postoperative care to patients undergoing eye surgery—for example, examining a patient’s eyes the day after surgery
  • Evaluate patients for the presence of diseases such as diabetes and refer patients to other healthcare providers as needed
  • Promote eye health by counseling patients, including explaining how to clean and wear contact lenses

Some optometrists spend much of their time providing specialized care, particularly if they are working in a group practice with other optometrists or physicians. For example, some optometrists mostly treat patients with only partial sight, a condition known as low vision. Others may focus on treating infants and children.

Many optometrists own their practice and may spend more time on general business activities such as hiring employees, ordering supplies, and marketing their business.

Optometrists also may work as postsecondary teachers, do research in optometry colleges, or work as consultants in the eye care industry.

Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and treat eye disease in addition to examining eyes and prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. For more information on ophthalmologists, see the physicians and surgeons profile. Dispensing opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some states, fill contact lens prescriptions that an optometrist or ophthalmologist has written.

Work Environment About this section

Optometrists
Some optometrists work with people who are blind or have limited sight, known as low vision.

Optometrists held about 33,100 jobs in 2012. About 53 percent of optometrists worked in stand-alone offices of optometry. Optometrists may also work in doctors’ offices, retail stores, and outpatient clinics. About 11 percent of optometrists were self-employed in 2012.

The industries that employed the most optometrists in 2012 were as follows:

Offices of optometrists53%
Offices of physicians18
Health and personal care stores11
Outpatient care centers2
Educational services; state, local, and private2

Work Schedules

Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.

How to Become an Optometrist About this section

optometrists image
Doctor of Optometry programs combine classroom learning and clinical experience.

Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering an O.D. program.

Education

Optometrists need a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. In 2012, there were 17 accredited Doctor of Optometry programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico. An additional 4 programs have received preliminary approval.

Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education, including coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. However, most students get a bachelor’s degree before enrolling in a Doctor of Optometry program.

Applicants must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) to apply to O.D. programs. The OAT is a computerized exam that tests applicants on four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.

Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, and visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.

After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in an area of emphasis. Areas of emphasis for residency programs include family practice, low vision care, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on law. All states require optometrists to take continuing education and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.

Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become certified by the American Board of Optometry.

Important Qualities

Decision-making skills. Optometrists must be able to evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

Interpersonal skills. Because they spend much of their time examining patients, optometrists must be able to help their patients feel at ease.

Speaking skills. Optometrists must be able to clearly explain eyecare instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.

Pay About this section

Optometrists

Median annual wages, May 2012

Optometrists

$97,820

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

$73,410

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for optometrists was $97,820 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,590, and the top 10 percent earned more than $184,530.

Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ needs.

Job Outlook About this section

Optometrists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Optometrists

24%

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

20%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 8,100 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will require more optometrists. As people age, they become more susceptible to conditions that impair vision, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

The number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has grown in recent years. Diabetes has been linked to increased rates of several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects the blood vessels in the eye and may lead to vision loss. More optometrists will be needed to monitor, treat, and refer individuals with these chronic conditions.

In addition, an increasing number of insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, provide some vision or eye care insurance coverage. Furthermore, the number of individuals, particularly children, who have vision or eye care insurance will increase as a result of federal health insurance reform legislation. More optometrists will be needed in order to provide services to more patients.

Job Prospects

Because the number of optometrists is limited by the number of accredited optometry schools, licensed optometrists should expect good job prospects. Like admission to professional degree programs in other fields, admission to optometry programs is highly competitive.

Students who choose to complete a residency program gain additional experience that may improve their job prospects. Certification from the American Board of Optometry may also be viewed favorably by employers.

In addition, a large number of currently practicing optometrists are expected to retire over the coming decade, creating opportunities for new optometrists.

Employment projections data for optometrists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Optometrists

29-1041 33,100 41,200 24 8,100 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of optometrists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Chiropractors

Chiropractors

Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They use spinal adjustments, manipulation, and other techniques to manage patients' health concerns, such as back and neck pain.

Doctoral or professional degree $66,160
Dentists

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with a patient’s teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.

Doctoral or professional degree $149,310
Opticians, dispensing

Opticians, Dispensing

Dispensing opticians help fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, following prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists. They also help customers decide which eyeglass frames or contact lenses to buy.

High school diploma or equivalent $33,330
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.
Podiatrists

Podiatrists

Podiatrists provide medical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems. They diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and perform surgery involving the lower extremities.

Doctoral or professional degree $116,440
Veterinarians

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Doctoral or professional degree $84,460

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about optometry, visit

American Optometric Association

For more information about optometrists, including a list of accredited optometric programs, visit

Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry

For information on specific admission requirements and sources of financial aid, contact the admissions officers of individual optometry schools.

For more information about the national board exam, visit

National Boards of Examiners in Optometry

For more information about certification, visit

American Board of Optometry

O*NET

Optometrists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Optometrists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/optometrists.htm (visited November 29, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014