What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: Eye Doctor
Career Overview: Optometrists examine patients’ eyes and overall visual systems.
Career Salary Range: $52,810 to $192,050
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 8
Required Minimum Degree/License: Doctor of Optometry Degree
Become an Optometrist
An Optometrist is a healthcare professional who specializes in the examination, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the eyes and other parts of the visual system. In fulfilling these responsibilities, Optometrists, also sometime referred to as “Eye Doctors,” will initially perform vision tests on patients and analyze the results to determine their visual needs or impairments. Dependant upon these results, they will diagnose issues pertaining to sight or disease. Oftentimes, patients diagnosed with sight challenges, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, will be prescribed eyeglass, contact lenses or other visual aids.
In addition to these duties, Optometrists may also perform minor surgical procedures to correct and / or treat visual impairments, provide vision therapies for low-vision rehabilitation and promote strong visual health practices through education and counseling (i.e. on how quitting smoking can improve vision).
“Working as an Optometrist is the perfect balance of being incredibly rewarding and fulfilling,” Pinto Ng, an Optometrist practicing in Las Vegas, NV, said. “The career can also be challenging, but in a way that’s very manageable and within your own control and comfort level. I’m making an impact every day, having fun and can easily do this comfortably for 30 more years and on.”
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Education & Training
To become an Optometrist, professionals must first complete a Bachelor’s Degree program, preferably with an emphasis on premedical studies for biological science. During this undergraduate degree program, future Eye Doctors are expected to take courses on the many different sciences, physics, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension and mathematics. After obtaining this degree, which normally takes 4 years to complete, learners must then take their Optometry Admission Test (OAT), a computerized exam required to apply to Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree programs.
“Studying and preparing for optometry school was what undergraduates did,” Ng noted.
Once accepted into one of these specialized 4-year degree programs, learners will experience in-class instruction, focused on optics, visual science, diseases and disorders, chemistry and diagnoses and treatment, combined with supervised clinical laboratory experience. After completing an OD program, some Optometrists will additionally complete a 1-year residency program to gain advanced clinical training in a specialty area, such as ocular disease, geriatric optometry, pediatric optometry, etc.
“Whether or not the OD program is difficult is subjective,” Ng explained. “On that note, I found the program to be difficult, but dedication and perseverance is a must for success and fulfillment of any dream. The program took me 5 years overall with the residency.”
Ng added that aside from the sheer mass of information learners must understand to become an Optometrist, there are other elements and factors which impact the completion of the degree program. For example, many learners juggle personal life, family, friends, personal health and their own sanity.
“Learning to unwind, to juggle everything in your life, and how to prioritize things is the most difficult in my opinion,” Ng said. “School was hard, but that was a given, but I knew the program would be going in. With optometry school, the course work just multiplied in comparison to an undergraduate degree program.”
Furthermore, before being able to practice, these professionals must become licensed by passing the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam. Even after becoming licensed, an Optometrists will still need to take continued education classes periodically to renew their license.
“Optometry has a lot of different areas to focus on. You can be an academic, a business owner, a researcher or a social worker, but more schooling typically advances your career in academia,” Ng said. “To be a successful private practitioner, more schooling doesn’t necessarily help you, but shadowing colleagues will help if you wish to emulate their success in their respective fields.”
Also, to advance in a career as an Optometrist, many of these professionals will chose to become board certified or to pursue opening their own practice. Additionally, advancement opportunities in this career in healthcare exist by switching to work in postsecondary education settings, in research for as consultants in the eye care industry. When trying to advance in this industry, networking amongst other professionals is a great way to find new and exciting opportunities!
Experience & Skills
To be an effective Optometrist, these professionals must have sharp decision making skills, as they are responsible for assessing, properly diagnosing and treating a variety of patients’ visual impairments. Furthermore, they should have strong interpersonal skills, allowing them to interact comfortably with their patients, and speaking skills, so that elements of an appointment, test or procedure can be thoroughly explained to patients. Speaking skills are also important for these professionals to possess because after a test is performed, or treatment is decided upon, Optometrists must be able to answer any and all patient questions and relay eye care instructions and potential limitations.
“I had very little experience upon entering my optometry program, but my colleagues had a lot of experience prior to optometry school,” Ng explained. “The programs will teach you all the skills and experience necessary to become a skilled optometrist. However, professionals in this career should already be able to memorize and retain the information about how to medically take care of someone’s eyes.”
Ng added that being able to work while hungry and/or tired is also important for Optometrists to be able to do. Additionally, he believes they should all be decisive and able to recall the information learned in optometry school while in the field.
“Optometrists should be patient, firm, caring and adaptive,” Ng stressed. “They should also be understanding, have keen attention to detail, and always be eager to keep learning and improving.”
Optometrists should also be kind, caring and helpful, as patients seek out their services for both comprehensive appointments, but also in times of visual stress, pain or emergency. They should want to genuinely help improve vision amongst their patients, and thus should be honest and empathetic to challenging situations. In ensuring the highest quality of care, these professionals should also be detail-oriented, ensuring that prescriptions are accurate, tests are performed with precision and patient records are entered correctly.
Most Optometrists are employed full-time, and some are required to work evenings and weekends to accommodate the scheduling needs of their patients. However, because most patient appointments are scheduled, these professionals tend to work relatively “normal” 9 am to 5 pm hours. Upon entering the practice each day, Optometrists typically look to a schedule to get an idea of how many patients they are scheduled to see each day, and the reasoning for each appointment. Between patients, these professionals catch up on emails or handle business-related tasks. On average, according to research by the American Optometric Association, Optometrists treat an average of 60 patients during an average of 37 hours in an office per week.
“The lifestyle of an Optometrist depends on what field they choose to practice in, and the day-to-day duties and responsibilities can vary greatly,” Ng said. “Basic associates and those in academics have a very simple, standard work schedule, but there’s the stress of the curriculum and the teaching/research aspect. Practice owners typically have the most hectic, busy schedules.”
He continued that because of the great variation, there is an ideal optometry workplace to meet all preferences. However, professionals must identify their priorities before accepting a position, to ensure that their intended lifestyle will fit with the given role.
“Some of my colleagues run triathlons and marathons on the side. Others have a huge family life to tend to. There’s others lecturing nonstop and publishing papers, other are opening offices, and having 15 to 40 employees working under them,” Ng explained.
Now is a great time to begin a rewarding career as an Optometrist! From 2016 to 2026, this career in healthcare is projected to grow 18 percent. This growth can largely be attributed to an aging baby boom population, as vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life. Health plans now tend to cover eye care including preventionary exams, and for this reason people with chronic illnesses which can affect visual health are now seeking out the services of Optometrists at a greater rate.
The vast majority of Optometrists are employed within the offices of Optometrists, however, employment opportunities also exist within the offices of Physicians, health and personal care stores and through the government. Becoming self-employed is another avenue which some Eye Doctors choose to pursue, as this means of employment offers much more control over practice hours and overall standards. The state with the highest employment level in this occupation is California, followed by New York, Illinois, Texas and Florida.
“When trying to find employment, I would suggest looking into the local optometry societies,” Ng advised. “Plug into the alumni network of the closest optometry colleges, and especially your own optometry school. You can relay your name to a recruiter as well.”
“The earning potential as an Optometrist is very good. You can live a very comfortable life, no matter what specialty field you end up working in,” Ng said.
Employment as an Optometrist can be an extremely lucrative career in healthcare! As of 2016, the median annual wage for Optometrists was $106,140. While the lowest 10 percent of earners were recorded to have made less than $52,810, the highest 10 percent made more than $192,050. Additionally, the highest paying employers of these professionals are the offices of Physicians, health and personal care stores, the offices of Optometrists and the government. The top paying states for this occupation are Connecticut, Alaska, Maryland, Oklahoma and Massachusetts.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The American Optometric Association (AOA) is an organization which leads authority on quality care and advocated for the nation’s health. This organization is centered on improving the quality and availability of eye and vision care through increased healthcare and public policy, professional standards, research, education leadership and reliable and currently industry information.
- Career shadow an Optometrist
- Determine which elements of the career excite you
- Ask questions of practicing Optometrists
- Research optometry programs and their requirements
- Network with Optometrists and seek out mentorship
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Pinto Ng
Practice: Eye District by JO
Location: Las Vegas, NV
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Know why you’re wanting to become an Optometrist, and what kind of life do you want to end up having.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They don’t see the sacrifices that will have to be made.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What am I willing to give, and what sacrifices will I have to make in this career?”
Why did you choose to become an Optometrist?
“I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives every day. Vision is such a simple, fragile, yet overlooked part of everyone’s lives. A simple eye exam is able to do so much for a person’s life. Whether is allowing a kid to see clear enough to read the board and get good grades, fitting contact lenses on a teenager so they can go play basketball or soccer without glasses or stopping headaches or eye strain so they can do their career with ease, there is great reward in helping others. I wanted to be able to do this, but also do this on my terms, with my ideas. So I wanted my own office, to design how my layout and how my patients will be seen when they come for an eye exam.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would that be?
*Credentialing organizations: American Board of Optometry