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Do You Know the Difference Between Ophthalmology and Optometry?

Editor’s Note: Although the Center for the Visually Impaired is a vision rehabilitation center and not a medical facility, we want our clients and the community we serve to be knowledgeable about medical terminology and conditions related to vision. So from time to time we will provide interesting information on this topic. Some people find the terms Ophthalmology and Optometry to be confusing or think they are the same. But there are differences between the two. The blog post below will explain those differences and has been provided by permission from

1. What is ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine that specializes in the anatomy, function, and diseases of the eye.

2. What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic physician who specializes in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and the prevention of eye disease. An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats refractive, medical, and surgical problems related to eye diseases and disorders. Ophthalmologists are licensed by state regulatory boards to practice medicine and surgery, as well as deliver routine eye care. An ophthalmologist will have the initials "M.D." (Doctor of Medicine) or "D.O." (Doctor of Osteopathy) after his or her name.

Picture of CVI client, Angeline, getting an eye exam. 3. What does an ophthalmologist do?

Ophthalmologists are trained to provide the full spectrum of eye care, from prescribing glasses and contact lenses to complex and delicate eye surgery. Ophthalmologists treat eye diseases, prescribe medications, and perform all types of surgery to improve, or prevent the worsening of, eye and vision-related conditions.

4. How is an ophthalmologist educated and trained?

In addition to four years of medical school and one year of internship, all ophthalmologists spend a minimum of three years of residency (hospital-based training) in ophthalmology. During residency, ophthalmologists receive specialized training in all aspects of eye care, including prevention, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions and diseases. Often, an ophthalmologist spends an additional one to two years training in a subspecialty, or a specific area of eye care, such as glaucoma or pediatric ophthalmology. All ophthalmologists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements to stay current regarding the latest standards of care.

1. What is optometry?

Optometry is a vision care specialty that is concerned with the health of the eyes, the visual system, and related structures.

Up close picture of an eye. 2. What is an optometrist?

An optometrist is a health care professional who specializes in function and disorders of the eye, detection of eye disease, and some types of eye disease management. An optometrist conducts eye examinations, prescribes corrective contact lenses and glasses, and diagnoses and treats eye diseases and disorders.

Optometrists are licensed by state regulatory boards that determine their scope of practice, which may vary from state to state. An optometrist will have the initials "O.D." (Doctor of Optometry) after his or her name.

3. What does an optometrist do?

Optometrists are trained to examine the eyes for visual defects, diagnose problems or impairments, prescribe corrective lenses, and provide certain types of treatment. Many (but not all) U.S. states have passed legislation that allows optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures, such as laser treatment; administer injections, such as local anesthesia or treatment for macular degeneration; and prescribe additional diagnostic, therapeutic, and oral medications. Visit the American Optometric Association website to determine if your state permits optometrists to perform these additional procedures.

4. How is an optometrist educated and trained?

Prior to admittance into optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor's degree. Optometrists then complete a four-year postgraduate program in optometry school to earn the Doctor of Optometry degree. Some optometrists go on to complete one- to two-year residencies with training in a specific sub-specialty area, such as pediatric or geriatric eye care, specialty contact lens, ocular disease, or neuro-optometry.

All optometrists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements to stay current regarding the latest standards of care.

*Low Vision Specialist--Many optometrists and some ophthalmologists have additional credentials or specialization in low vision testing, diagnosis, and treatment, and are trained to conduct low vision eye examinations and prescribe special low vision optical devices. If you're experiencing significant vision loss, a low vision specialist can determine whether special optical and non-optical devices, improved lighting, or other types of specialized services and equipment can help make the best use of your remaining vision. If this applies to you or someone you know contact CVI’s Florence Maxwell Low Vision Clinic for an appointment at 404-875-9011.

To learn more about Ophthalmology and Optometry check out these resources:

American Academy of Ophthalmology

American Optometric Association