Ophthalmology and Optometry

The distinction between ophthalmology and optometry is a frequent source of confusion. In addition to the fact that both are concerned with eye care, several other factors contribute to this misunderstanding. One source of confusion stems from the fact that optometrists are often referred to as “eye doctors” although, unlike ophthalmologists, they do not have medical degrees.

An optometrist receives a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and is licensed to practice optometry, not medicine. The practice of optometry traditionally involves examining the eye for the purpose of prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses and screening vision to detect certain eye abnormalities.

In comparison, the scope of an ophthalmologist’s practice is much broader. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis, management, and surgery of ocular diseases and disorders. Ophthalmologists also routinely carry out many of the same tasks as optometrists and, although there are almost twice as many practicing optometrists as ophthalmologists, about 1/4 of the nation’s refractions and eye examinations are performed by ophthalmologists.

The difference between the training of an optometrist and that of an ophthalmologist underscores the difference in the range of practice. An optometrist may have only 7 years of training after high school, consisting of 3 to 4 years of college and 4 years in an optometric college. An ophthalmologist receives a minimum of 12 years of education, which typically includes 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 1 or more years of general clinical training, and 3 or more years in a hospital-based eye residency program, often followed by 1 or more years of subspecialty fellowship.

Beyond refractive errors, optometrists have limited exposure in training to patients with eye disorders or health problems. Didactic training in medical, pharmaceutical and ocular subjects averages approximately one year. In contrast, ophthalmologists have a full medical education, followed by extensive clinical and surgical training in ophthalmology, with thousands of hours devoted to care and treatment of sick patients.

The ophthalmologist’s residency training includes:

  • Medical eye treatment and disease diagnosis of 3000 to 5000 patients.
  • A minimum of 400 hours in basic and clinical science study related to eye disease and treatment, including prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • From 60 to 70 hours per week giving total care to medical and surgical eye patients, including eye disease treatment, surgery for cataracts, strabismus, corneal disease, retinal and vitreous disease, oculoplastics, and trauma, under the supervision of top medical university professors.
  • Intensive in-hospital training in eye emergencies, eye and facial trauma, the coordination of care with other medical specialists in the management of system disease. (Source – American Academy of Ophthalmology)

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