Ophthalmologists, Optometrists & Opticians: What’s The Difference?

Every ophthalmologist, optometrist and optician is an eye care professional, but not all eye care professionals possess each of these particular specialties. So what’s the difference?

Ophthalmologist. This type of eye doctor specializes in both detecting and treating eye diseases. Becoming an ophthalmologist requires a medical or osteopathic school degree and residency and enables an individual to provide medical and surgical eye care.

Optometrist. A doctor of optometry completes an education focused on general eye care including eye exams, prescribing glasses and contact lenses, vision therapy and low vision care. Some optometrists go on to do a residency or fellowship in specialty areas. Today’s optometrists are highly trained and licensed to perform varying facets of eye care depending on state laws.  In Michigan, optometrists do not perform surgery but handle most other eye care needs.  Dr. Williamson, our clinic director, specializes in pediatrics and specialty contact lenses.  

Opticians. These individuals dispense, adjust, fit, and repair ophthalmic devices such as glasses or contact lenses. They are not doctors, and therefore cannot advise on or treat eye health issues, but can provide a wealth of information and services regarding the glasses or contact lenses you are prescribed. 

Below are some other types of eye care providers you may come across in the eye care field.

Orthoptists. These individuals typically work in tandem with pediatric eye surgeons.

Ophthalmic technicians. These individuals typically support ophthalmologists and optometrists.

Paraoptometrics. These individuals work in support of optometrists.

Each of these eye care professionals offers their own set of useful skills that make it easy for patients to receive the eye health care they need. With so many professionals in the field, it’s not easy to figure out who to see for what.  If you’re not sure what you or your child might need, a good place to start is by scheduling an eye exam with an optometrist near you.  This type of eye doctor will be equipped to handle most eye care needs and will know where to send you if more specialized care is required.

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