Each member of the eye care team, from those working at the front desk to those in the back office, has an important role in our medical practices and ambulatory surgery centers. But sometimes, people use ophthalmology and optometry interchangeably. They both involve eye care and eye doctors, so what’s the difference between ophthalmology and optometry?
Ophthalmology and optometry are two distinct branches of eye care, each with its own specific focus and areas of expertise. Let’s take a look at the key differences between ophthalmology and optometry, including when you want to see an ophthalmologist versus an optometrist and which term you should use.
What is optometry?
Optometry involves examining, diagnosing, and treating patients’ eyes. Optometrists are highly skilled eye care professionals who specialize in providing primary vision care. They play a crucial role in assessing and managing various eye conditions and refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. They also prescribe glasses and contact lenses.
Optometrists also conduct comprehensive eye exams to detect and monitor eye health issues, and they may offer vision therapy for certain vision problems.
Some optometrists choose to practice in a certain area, such as in a hospital, or with specific age groups, such as children.
Optometrists have a doctor of optometry degree. They attend a four-year bachelor’s degree program followed by optometry school, which generally lasts another four years. During optometry school, students delve into ocular anatomy, physiology, optics, vision science, pharmacology, and clinical procedures. They also gain practical experience through clinical rotations, where they work with patients under the supervision of experienced optometrists.
Optometry students must take a licensure exam upon graduation. Some optometry students decide to take an optional residency, which offers additional specialized training in areas such as pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, ocular disease management, or vision therapy.
Like many medical professions, optometry requires lifelong learning. Optometrists participate in continuing education courses and stay up to date with advancements in the field, new treatments, and changes in regulations and technology.
When Should You See an Optometrist?
Seeing an optometrist instead of an ophthalmologist can be appropriate in certain situations, depending on your eye care needs and the nature of your eye condition. You might see an optometrist for routine eye exams, corrective lenses, general eye health, vision therapy, and pre-and post-operative care.
What is ophthalmology?
Ophthalmologists and optometrists have distinct roles and training, so there are differences in the services they provide. Some of the specific services that ophthalmologists handle include eye surgery, advanced eye disease management, prescribing of medications, ocular trauma management, and diagnosis of systemic diseases.
Optometrists and ophthalmologists have an essential partnership in caring for patients’ eyes. Optometrists work with ophthalmologists and vice versa.
Most ophthalmologists care for all eye problems, but some ophthalmologists choose to do further training in a subspecialty, such as pediatrics, glaucoma, neurology, or other subspecialties. Ophthalmologists with subspecialties can provide care for general eye conditions, but they’re able to also take care of more complex eye conditions or specific areas of the eye.
Training and education for ophthalmologists typically includes a four-year undergraduate program, medical school, and 4-5 years of specialized training. If they choose to specialize in a specific area of ophthalmology, they’ll also take on additional training in that area.
When Should You See an Ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is essential when a patient is experiencing more advanced eye conditions, needs surgery, or is referred by an optometrist to co-managing care.
How does VIP support patients in ophthalmology and optometry?
Optometrists and ophthalmologists work together to support our patients at our medical practices and ambulatory surgery centers. Our doctor team works together to identify issues and best support our patients. We work closely with optometrists both within VIP and externally to ensure high-quality care of our patients.
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Take a look at our careers page and apply today to join our team!