What is an Optometrist and Why Should I See One?

by Aug 30, 2021

Many people hear the word “optometrist” and might not know what it means. Optometrists are eye doctors, who have spent many years studying Optometry—the practice of examining the health of the eyes.


How Does One Become an Optometrist?

Optometrists start by getting a bachelor’s degree (4-year program) from an accredited university. Typically, optometrists receive bachelor’s degrees in the sciences—biology, chemistry, genetics, etc., however there is no specific bachelor’s degree required.

Optometrists then apply for optometry school. Optometry schools require potential candidates to take certain classes such as anatomy, physiology, biology, physics, chemistry, etc. and also to pass a standardized test called the OAT.

There are only 23 optometry schools in the United States—so it is a very selective process. Schools take into account college GPA, OAT scores, essays, interviews, and experience prior to accepting someone.

Once being accepted into a school of optometry, your doctor completed 4 or more years of coursework specific to just the eyes and human body. This coursework is similar to medical school, but with a greater emphasis in the eyes.

During schooling, your doctor also learns about systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, STDs, cancers, common colds, allergies, and many more. This is in addition to learning about eye health and how to write glasses and contact lens prescriptions.

During the third year of optometry school, optometrists take what is called “National Boards Exam of Optometry” of NBEO. This is a 3 part national exam that every optometrist must pass in order to become a doctor.

After passing all three parts and all four years of course work, the optometrist receives their degree and becomes official. However, prior to starting to see patients on their own, each optometrist must pass their state’s exam in order to practice in that state.

Each state has its own exam and list of regulations that must be followed. One of these regulations is staying up to date with new procedures and practices. Optometrist must continue their educated over the years post-school to keep their license by attending a certain number of lectures/seminars on optometry-related practices.

Regardless of where your optometrist went to school—it is safe to say they know what they are doing and you are in great hands! Becoming an optometrist is no easy feat!


What Does an Optometrist Do?

Now that you know all about the extended schooling your eye doctor has attended, we can chat about all the things an optometrist can and cannot do.

One of the most common reasons optometrists are sought-after is for vision improvement. Optometrists have perfected the skill of prescribing glasses and contact lenses to those who suffer from refractive errors such as myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism.

Correcting refractive error, however, is just one small part of the job!

It is very important for an individual to have their eye health checked every year. The eye is the only part of the body in which a doctor can see inside without performing surgery.

When eye doctors look inside your eyes, they can see your blood vessels—which tell a lot about a person’s health!

From the blood vessels, your eye doctor can tell if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, autoimmune diseases, assess stroke risk, cancers, and many more!

One of the first signs of many diseases is a decrease in vision. You may think you just need a pair of glasses, but upon further observation your eye doctor may be the first line of defense against detecting something more serious and get you in to start treatment sooner rather than later.

Your eye doctor will also check for more serious eye-related diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, ocular hypertension, diabetic retinopathy, retinal problems, corneal problems, and much more. In most of these cases—early detection and intervention is key.

In addition to eye health and refractive error correction, the field of optometry is ever expanding. Today, optometrists are trained on concussion recognition and treatment, low vision rehab, pediatrics, binocular vision therapy, specialty contact lenses, and others.

Things that optometrists cannot do are major surgeries like LASIK, cataract removal, retinal treatments, and other large eye surgeries. These procedures are done by an Ophthalmologist, which is a doctor who went to medical school and then specialized with a residency in ocular surgery.

Ophthalmologists and Optometrists often work together, however, as the fields are very closely related. If an optometrist wants help from an ophthalmologist they will refer you to a good one, and vice versa.

It is important to note, nonetheless, that the field of optometry ever-changing. Some states (Oklahoma, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas) are beginning to allow optometrists to perform more basic laser surgeries.

It is only expected that the field of optometry will continue to grow rather than become more reduced.


Why Should I see an Optometrist?

As we have hinted around in this article, seeing your eye doctor—regardless of whether or not you are happy with your vision—every year is very important!

Some situations in which you should call your eye doctor include:

  • Fuzzy/blurry vision
  • Irritated, dry, or gritty feeling eyes
  • Vision loss
  • Eye pain
  • Red or pink eyes
  • Excessively watering eyes
  • Any other eye-related problem

Eye doctors provide specialized care at a low cost to patients. Seeing the eye doctor is much less invasive than seeing a surgeon, so why not go see one each year?

It is always better to be told everything is healthy and to continue monitoring your health at yearly exams than to wait many years and have a major issue detected in the late stages when nothing can be done.

If you are still not convinced that seeing your eye doctor yearly is essential, that is alright. We will always be here to help you with your basic vision needs such as glasses and contact lenses too! Regardless of cause, we are always here and eager to help with all of your eye-related needs.


Our eye doctors at Neal Eye Group in Conshohocken, PA excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrists at (610) 828-9701 or schedule an appointment online if you would like to learn more about what an optometrist does and how we can help!  Our optometrists provide the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in Conshohocken, Norristown, Plymouth Meeting, Lafayette Hill, and Philadelphia.


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