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Optometry is a wide study of vision and the creation of optical instruments that benefit an individual’s vision. The term “optometry”, which comes from the Greek word optos (vision) and metria (measurement), was first coined in 1886 by Edmund Landolt, a Swiss ophthalmologist (a specialist in medical and surgical practices for the eye). The practice of optometry dates back to well before this date- it is suggested that the first spectacles were created in Italy as long ago as the 13th century. In 1623 the first book on the study of the anatomy of the eye as well as how to properly create glass lenses to improve vision was authored by Benito Daza de Valdes. Since this pioneering book, many advances have been made in the field of optometry- the invention of the bifocal in 1760, the growth of optical companies and the development of new diagnostic technology in the 19th century, and the introduction of contact lenses in the late 20th century. The first school of optometry was opened in the United States in the late 1800s.
Until the term “optometrist” was used to describe those who diagnosed and prescribed lenses to individuals, these professionals were considered opticians (dispensers of lenses). As more and more professionals established themselves as highly trained optometrists and opened up their own practices,, there was a push for a set of unifying standards to be set for the education, practice, regulation, and licensing of optometrists. In 1898 the American Association of Optometrists was founded, and this organization helped implement stricter educational and professional standards as well as guidelines for state licensure, which led to membership becoming more exclusive. Today there are only 20 optometry schools accredited by the AOA in the United States.
Optometrists diagnose vision problems and prescribe medicines and other solutions. Optometrists test vision using a multitude of tools and techniques, testing everything from near- and farsightedness, depth perception to glaucoma. Depending on the diagnosis, an optometrist may prescribe eyeglasses or contact lessons, medication, or provide treatments such as vision therapy and low-vision rehabilitation. There are several specialties in the field of optometry. Optometrists also promote proper nutrition as well as optical hygiene in order to minimize eye disease. Most optometrists are employed in general practices as the primary care optometrist, but many professionals are now specializing in different fields such as contact lenses or vision therapy and choose to open practices in which each optometrist provides specific care.
Two types of providers related to optometrists are opticians and ophthalmologists. Opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses, and may fit contacts depending on state laws. Unlike an optometrist, they cannot diagnose or prescribe solutions for eye problems. Ophthalmologists are physicians that are specialists in medicine relating to the eye, and perform eye surgeries, such as cataract surgery.
In order to become an optometrist, a provider must complete undergraduate-level study in preferably a pre-med or biology field. They must then pass an entrance exam into a Doctor of Optometry program, which takes seven years to complete. Specialization requires an additional year of post-doctoral school.
Opticians require no formal specialized education, and can be trained through apprenticeships with experienced opticians. It is recommended that providers go through a year or two of specialized academic training in a related field, such as optometric dispensing. Some states require licensing, and most employers will require opticians to be certified.
Ophthalmologists undergo 8 years of post-high school education, similar to an optometrist. They go through medical school, and upon its completion receive a medical doctorate in ophthalmology and are considered physicians. Post-degree, they must complete 4 years of residency before they begin to practice.
Credentials and Regulation Bodies
Optometrists have the suffix of O.D., or Optometrist Doctor, and are licensed by the Board of Optometry in the state where they practice. The American Optometric Association is the main regulation body for this profession
Opticians are certified by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiner (NCLE). The Optician’s Association of America (OAA) is the body that sets and maintains practice standards for opticians.
Ophthalmologists are licensed surgeons and thus have an M.D. (Medical Doctor) suffix. They must apply to the American Board of Ophthalmology to become board certified. The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the regulating body that sets the high standards of practice for this field.
The American Optometrist Association (AOA) is the main professional association for doctors of optometry, and serves as a network for professionals. The Optician’s Association of America (OAA) is the largest national association for certified opticians. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the national association for licensed, certified ophthalmologists. www.aoa.org
To learn more about optometrists, visit the AOA website at www.aoa.org. To learn more about opticians, visit the OAA website at www.oaa.org. To learn more about ophthalmologists visit the AAO at www.aao.org.