Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist – What’s the Difference?

If you have ever been confused by the different types of eye doctors out there, you are not alone! Many people have a hard time not only spelling the names of the different professions, but also figuring out which doctor will meet their eye care needs best.

optometrist child pediatric eye examOptometrist

An optometrist is an eye doctor that has graduated from an undergraduate university and then pursued a graduate degree as a doctor of optometry. They then often complete a residency or area of specialization so they can diagnose and manage more advanced cases. An optometrists ability to treat and manage eye disease is on par with their ophthalmological counterparts, though their scope of practice depends on the state they practice in. They work at the front lines of primary eye care diagnosing, treating, and managing eye conditions and diseases. Many optometrists have undergone extensive training to specialize in certain areas of the medical eye care system.

In addition to routine eye exams, an optometrist might be your best bet to get specialty glasses, contacts, and vision therapy.

An optometrist specializes in:

  • Primary eye care
  • Diagnosing and managing eye disease
  • Surgical co-management

For example, you may be going to your primary care optometrist for your glasses when you may bring up your interest in LASIK or cataract surgery. Your optometrist will perform a comprehensive eye exam to ensure your eyes are healthy and ready for surgery. They will then refer you to a specialized ophthalmologist who concentrates in a specific area of surgery. After the surgery is complete, you may return to your primary care optometrist for follow up appointments and only get referred back to the surgeon if needed.  

pediatric eye examOphthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has graduated from an undergraduate program and then gone through medical school. These doctors then go on to complete a residency and extra training, called a fellowship, to specialize in certain types of surgeries and treatments for very advanced eye problems. 


An ophthalmologist specializes in:

  • Specialized treatment and management
  • Tertiary eye care
  • Surgical procedures

Whether you go to your local optometrist or ophthalmologist, you are sure to get great care and treatment. All doctors, no matter what type, will be sure to send you to the right specialist if it’s a case that’s beyond their comfort level. To be quite honest, you don’t want anyone who isn’t comfortable or experienced in your specific problem treating you, and if you feel uncomfortable with the level of care you are given it never hurts to get a second opinion!

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