What’s the Difference Between an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist?

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The words optometrist and ophthalmologist are thrown around often as they are very similar words with pretty similar meanings. Many people tend to get confused as to which does what. It’s even possible for optometrists and ophthalmologists to work in the same building and even co-manage patients they receive. We hope this article can explain the differences between the two to you.


Ophthalmologists are a type of physician, which means they are doctors of osteopathy (DOs) or doctors of medicine (MDs). Each of these complete at least four or more years of college premedical education, four years of college medical school, and then have at least one year of internship before getting their doctorate degrees. After licensed physician status is achieved, a residency of three or more years is then completed, which trains them more specifically in medical and surgical aspects of the eye.

An ophthalmologist will provide a complete range of services related to eye care. These may include:

  • Vision care and services, such as eye exams
  • Surgical eye care – treatment for glaucoma, trauma, tumors, crossed eyes, cataracts, etc
  • Medical eye care – treatment for chemical burns, orbital cellulites, glaucomes, iritis, etc
  • Plastic Surgery – some may offer these services for skin tumors, droopy eyelids, or for improving skin tone and smoothing out wrinkles near the eyes.
  • Diagnosis and treatment for eye conditions that relate to other diseases, such as diabetes


Optometrists are specifically trained to treat and diagnose eye conditions such as astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness. They are also the doctors who will prescribe you eyeglasses, contact lenses, low vision aids, eye exercises, and therapy for your vision. Along with this training they know how to identify eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or retinal disease, and in some cases will prescribe medicine to treat these conditions.

An optometrist will not attend medical school, and most will receive an undergraduate degree then begin four years of training for an optometry degree (OD). Some will complete a one year post graduate clinical residency to gain certification as a specialist.

Services provided by an optometrist will generally include:

  • Eye disease and injury preventing services
  • Diagnosing conditions of the eye such as conjunctivitis, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration
  • Prescribing contact lenses or glasses
  • Eye care services like eye exams
  • Prescribing medication for eye diseases and conditions (only in some states)

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