Why You Should Choose a Career in Optometry

What is an Optometrist?

Doctors of Optometry are essential health care providers and are recognized as physicians under Medicare. They examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, they play a major role in an individual’s overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases, and diagnosing, treating, and managing ocular manifestations of those diseases. If a disease or other conditions are detected, a Doctor of Optometry can help direct patients to the right prevention plans or the next steps in official diagnosis and treatment.1

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How to Become an Optometrist2

ASCO

Optometrists typically need a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education.  The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) is the accrediting body for professional optometric degree (O.D.) programs, optometric residency programs, and optometric technician programs in the United States and Canada

Applicants to these graduate programs must have completed at least 3 years of undergraduate education. However, applicants to O.D. programs typically have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as biology or physical science. Programs that do not require a specific field of degree for admissions will likely require that applicants have completed a series of pre-requisite courses in subjects such as chemistry, physics, and calculus.

Applicants to O.D. programs also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).

The Optometry Admission Test is a standardized examination designed to measure general academic ability and comprehension of scientific information. The OAT is sponsored by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) for applicants seeking admission to an optometry program. All schools and colleges of optometry in the United States and the University of Waterloo, Canada require the OAT.

Traditional O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They include both academic coursework and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system. During clinical training, students gain experience treating patients in a variety of settings, such as community health centers, hospitals and private practice.

After finishing an O.D. degree, optometrists may choose a 1-year Residency consisting of advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize.

All states require optometrists to be licensed. Prospective optometrist must have an O.D. degree from an accredited optometry school/college and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam. Some states require candidates to pass an additional exam, such as on clinical skills or on laws relating to optometry.

All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to renew their license periodically.  Optometrists may obtain an optional credential to become board certified by the American Board of Optometry. This certification requires passing an examination.

Work Environment

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Optometrists held about 43,400 jobs in 2022. Most optometrists work in offices or in optical goods stores. Optometrists usually work full time, but part-time work is common. Schedules may vary to include evenings and weekends.2

Pay

The national average optometric income reported for 2023 stands at $194,020, representing a gain of 12.2% over 2022’s figure of $172,914.3   Optometrists with advanced skills in high-demand areas now anticipate higher salaries and performance-based incentives. This change reflects the growing recognition of the value that specialized optometrists bring to the field.4

Job Outlook

Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations.  About 1,700 openings for optometrists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.2   The field of optometry is also experiencing a growing emphasis on specialization to meet the changing needs of patients. Specialization allows practitioners to address specific patient needs and provide more targeted care.

Furthermore, Optometrists are experiencing diversification in optometry roles, expanding beyond traditional practice settings. Optometrists now have opportunities in various sectors, including corporate, academia, research, and public health (see below).4

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  • In the corporate sector, optometrists can contribute to employee wellness programs and vision care companies. Within wellness programs, optometrists play a crucial role in promoting and maintaining employees’ visual health. They may provide comprehensive eye examinations, prescribe corrective eyewear, and educate employees on eye health and safety practices.
  • Optometrists working in vision care companies collaborate with industry professionals to develop innovative products and services, ensuring optimal visual outcomes.
  • Optometry in academia allows optometrists to prepare the future of the profession and contribute to advancing optometry research and developing innovative solutions by conducting studies and investigations that address various aspects of eye health and vision care. Through their research, they can explore new diagnostic techniques, therapeutic interventions, and preventative measures to improve patient outcomes.
  • Public health optometry offers a chance for providers to address community eye care needs and promote preventive measures. By working in this sector, optometrists can engage in initiatives such as conducting screenings, developing and implementing public health programs, collaborating with interdisciplinary teams, and advocating for equity in eye health policies.
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Is being an eye doctor, the right choice for you?

Latinos en Optometry has partnered with Transitions to bring you an exclusive Webinar series “Road to Optometry,” Click here to hear from Optometrists about their experiences and careers.

Resources

Interested in learning about a career in optometry? Now you can directly hear from an optometrist through The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) Eye Opener Session. Sign up here to connect one-on-one with an OD.  From short, online conversations to in-person shadowing opportunities, it’s a simple, no-pressure way to find out what it’s like to be an eye doctor.

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References

  1. “What’s a Doctor of Optometry,” American Optometric Association https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/whats-a-doctor-of-optometry?sso=y , Accessed 2/10/24
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Optometrists,
    at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/optometrists.htm 
  3. 2023 Income Trends: A Wealth of Experience, Review of Optometry, December 15, 2023 https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/article/2023-income-trends-a-wealth-of-experience
  4. “The Future of Optometry: Career Trends and Hiring Practices,”  https://www.revolutionehr.com/blogs/practice-management/optometry-career-trends/ Accessed 2/14/23