To become an optometrist, you will need to complete specialized education and gain relevant clinical experience. If you’re interested in becoming an optometrist, then you’re at the right place, as I will outline all you need to know in this article.
What's in this guide?
Who is an optometrist?
Optometrists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat vision and eye-related diseases and prescribe lenses to correct vision. They perform eye examinations on patients and interpret the results to come up with a definitive diagnosis. They are doctors who specialize in vision and eye care.
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How to become an optometrist
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
In countries like the United States and Canada, you will have to obtain a bachelor’s degree before going to optometry school. It is similar to becoming a doctor, in that you will have to pursue a pre-med course before you can apply for optometry school. This will require about 4 years of study, after which you will take an admission exam into an optometry school to start your study.
Most countries do not require aspiring optometrists to earn a bachelor’s degree to gain admission into an optometry school. If this is the case for you, then you can skip this step to the next.
2. Attend optometry school
Attending optometry school will earn you a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. In this program, you will be equipped with all the knowledge you need to succeed as an optometrist. You will learn several courses including anatomy, physiology, optics, visual science, and various eye diseases and disorders.
In countries like the US and Canada, where you will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree first, optometry school is 4 years. While in other countries where you can attend optometry school right after high school, optometry is a 5-6 year course.
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3. Gain clinical experience
While in optometry school, you will take part in several clinical rotations as part of your coursework to help you gain the practical skills needed to succeed in the profession. You will be assigned to a hospital or an optometry office where you will learn clinical skills directly from licensed optometrists.
You can decide to gain clinical experience on your own by applying to hospitals and optometry offices, where you will work under a skilled optometrist and learn important skills. You can decide to complete a residency after completing your optometry school to gain more knowledge and experience as an optometrist.
The earlier you begin to learn clinical skills, the better. You can start as early as after high school with observerships and job shadows. It will help you gain an understanding of the role of an optometrist to decide if it is the right career path for you. It will also help you in your optometry school applications, making you a more competitive candidate.
4. Get your license
Before you can start working as an optometrist, you must obtain a license to practice optometry in your state or country. Each country has its regulations regarding licensing optometrists, so you will have to research to find out which applies to you. You typically will have to write a licensing exam and receive a certificate once you pass. It may involve both written exams to test your knowledge and clinical exams to test your clinical skills.
Depending on the country you choose to work in, you may need to renew your license every few years. This typically involves completing continuing education courses, writing exams and updating your license.
5. Start working
Once you have become licensed to practice, you can start looking for optometry jobs. You can search for jobs on job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn, or reach out directly to hospitals and optometry offices that you are interested in.
To stand out in the job market, you should craft a well-written resume and cover letter that is tailored to the job description and showcases your best skills and talents. Before you send in your application, do your research to find out the kind of candidates they prefer so you can better prepare yourself. Make a list of possible interview questions and come up with your own questions to ask your interviewers. These will help you stand a better chance of landing a well-paying job.
What’s the difference between an optometrist, an ophthalmologist and an optician?
The three professionals can work in hospitals towards vision care. The difference is their primary functions and education. In terms of education, optometrists attend optometry school to become doctors of optometry, ophthalmologists attend medical school to become doctors and then complete a residency in ophthalmology, while opticians typically undergo clinical training in a hospital or gain an associate’s degree for three years.
In terms of duties, optometrists diagnose and treat eye conditions, prescribe lenses, correct vision, and are considered the primary vision care and eye healthcare provider; ophthalmologists are vision and eye care specialists who can perform medical and surgical procedures to treat eye diseases; and opticians are specialized in helping patients enhance their vision by designing and fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses, as prescribed by ophthalmologists and optometrists.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take to become an optometrist?
In the United States or Canada, where you will have to earn a bachelor’s degree before you start optometry school, it will take at least 8 years to become an optometrist. In other countries where you can immediately attend optometry school after secondary school, it takes about 6 years.
What skills are essential to become an optometrist?
Many useful skills will be beneficial in the lives of optometrists, which include listening skills, communication skills, analytical skills, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, and attention to detail.
How much do optometrists earn?
The average salary of optometrists will depend on where they work, their experience and many other factors. In the United States, Optometrists earn an average of $144,000 per year.
Where do optometrists work?
Optometrists may work in hospitals, independent optometry practices, or corporate vision centres. Where an optometrist works depends on their preferences and the options available to them.
Can optometrists specialize?
Yes, optometrists can pursue specialized fields such as pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, sports vision, low vision, or vision therapy, among others.
What is a day in the life of an optometrist like?
An optometrist typically works full-time and spends their days in exam rooms, using specialised tools to examine patients and perform vision tests, diagnose eye-related diseases, treat eye injuries and prescribe lenses to correct vision problems. They may refer more serious cases to ophthalmologists and other hospitals, and patients with non-ocular symptoms to other healthcare providers as needed.