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Ophthalmology vs Optometry: What's The Difference?

At Acuity Eye Specialists, our employees field this question fairly often. What differentiates one eye doctor fro another? While there is definite overlap, there are a few key differences, which are covered here.

1. Education

An optometrist (known as an OD) has been trained to manage eye disease, prescribe contacts, and remove foreign bodies from the eye. Typically, an optometrist has completed four years of undergraduate education and four years in an optometry program, which focuses on improving on a patient’s eyesight through the use of contacts and glasses. Courses in detecting eye disease are also a focus.

Conversely, an ophthalmologist is a trained medical doctor who has earned either an MD or a DO. Typically, they’ve spent four years in medical school, four years in undergrad, and another three years studying surgery and ways of treating diseases of the eye.

2. Scope of Role

Stated previously, the overlap between the two professions can be confusing. While ophthalmologists are able to prescribe glasses and contact lenses, this is not their typical role. The focus of the ophthalmologist is to diagnose, treat, and manage ocular diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, often through surgical means. An optometrists’ main focus is on improving the eyesight of the patient. While an optometrist may detect diseases in their patient, they will then often refer their patient to an ophthalmologist as the next step of treatment.