The vision industry is a unique healthcare specialty because it has both a medical and retail branch. Individuals who work in the industry have many options in terms of which career path they wish to pursue based on their personal employment preferences. Those who are considering a career in eye care and who are unfamiliar with the options available to them are encouraged to learn more about the role of the optometrist, ophthalmologist, optician, and optical assistant. Each of these professionals provides unique services to patients and must complete a different course of education and training. Understanding the differences between these specialists will allow individuals to make a more informed decision about which career path to pursue.
An optometrist and ophthalmologist both work primarily on the medical side of vision care, but may have some influence and business interests that stem from owning a retail optical dispensary. The ophthalmologist offers the most advanced medical services due to the fact that they are required to graduate from medical school and must complete a rigorous post-graduate training program. Most eye surgeries are performed by ophthalmologists and they can often be found working in hospitals as well as independent eye care clinics.
The optometrist specializes in prescription eye exams and basic management of eye diseases. Optometrists complete a less demanding graduate training program that requires eight years of college education and the option of a one year post-graduate fellowship. Most opticians begin working right out of graduate school and may choose to seek employment or open their own office. Both of these career options are excellent choices for individuals who want to provide medical services to patients and who are willing to subject themselves to many years of education, training, and financial hardship.
For those who are more interested in helping winklashesandnails patients select and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, the optician career path is a more appropriate option. Opticians are trained to identify each patient’s particular sense of style so that they can direct patients to eyeglasses that are complementary to that style. In addition, an optician has the knowledge and skills required to ensure that a particular pair of frames fits comfortably on the face. The road to becoming an optician is far less demanding than that of an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Currently, there are only about 25 states that have regulations requiring opticians to complete formal education and training. In these states, an optician is generally expected to complete a two-year degree program or an apprenticeship followed by successful completion of a national certifying exam.
Unregulated states typically allow optical employers to establish their own expectations for opticians. In these states, standards for practice vary a lot and are often reflective of the particular tasks that each employer wants an optician to perform. Individuals who plan to pursue the optician career path are well-advised to voluntarily complete the certification process regardless of state requirements and employer expectations. Studies have shown that certified opticians are able to command a higher salary, obtain better benefits, pursue more career opportunities, and transfer credentials between regulated and unregulated states in the event that they decide to move. While it does require some time and effort to perform well on the certification exams, most opticians discover that the investment is well worth it.