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Optometrists and Ophthalmologists: What’s the Difference?

August 23, 2018

When you have any kind of medical problem, you want to seek out the doctor with the most specialized training to take care of it. However, when the problem is with the eyes, many people don’t know the differences between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist and how to decide which one is the proper one to contact about their problems.

An optometrist has earned the doctor of optometry (or OD) degree. An optometrist can examine your eyes to look for vision problems and also assess the general health of the eye.

In the United States, an optometrist could be licensed to prescribe medications. Optometrists are able to prescribe medications in New Jersey.

You can find your state’s Board of Optometry through this link at the American Optometric Association:

https://www.aoa.org/advocacy/state-advocacy/state-resouces/state-boards-of-optometr

An optometrist can also prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.

The educational requirements for an optometrist include a four-year degree in a science from an accredited university and then four years at optometry school. Some optometrists go on to do a 1 to 2 year residency in various fields to improve their knowledge.

An ophthalmologist on the other hand is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who has chosen a specialty in vision and eyecare. An ophthalmologist obtains the same level of education as any other medical doctor. This means four years in college with a science-related degree or pre-med, four years at medical school, then internships and at least three years as a resident in a hospital focusing on eyecare and eye surgery.

In addition to being able to perform surgery, an ophthalmologist can also specialize in treatment of diseases that cannot be completely treated by an optometrist alone, such as ocular cancers.

So which one is right for you?

If you are dealing with an eye condition that will have some kind of long-term impact to your overall health and that could require surgery at some point (such as cataracts) then you are likely to be better served by seeing an ophthalmologist. While an optometrist can provide the pre-operative and post-operative care related to a surgical process, only the ophthalmologist can perform the surgery.

However, if you are satisfied with your primary eyecare provider who is an optometrist, there are viable ways to allow co-management of your eyecare with an ophthalmologist. You would need to discuss with your optometrist which ophthalmologist you would prefer to work with for surgical procedures or advanced forms of eye treatment, and have the optometrist coordinate with the ophthalmologist’s office.

This co-treatment process is often used in the case of someone seeking LASIK for their vision problems. Almost all states require that an ophthalmologist perform the LASIK process, although the pre-surgery examinations and post-operative treatment can be done by an optometrist. However, it’s important to note that the ophthalmologist would have the final say on the treatment plan for someone undergoing surgery. This might mean that the ophthalmologist would prefer to handle the pre- and post-op examinations and treatments.

Dr. Silverman of OCLI is an ophthalmologist with a degree in medicine from New Jersey Medical School, and his bachelor’s degree from Boston University, where he graduated with honors. In addition to LASIK, he specializes in small-incision, no-stitch cataract surgery. He and the team at OCLI can treat all of your eyecare needs. Contact them today if you have any eye problems or want to see if LASIK is right for you.

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