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Are you nearsighted or farsighted? Do you have an astigmatism or presbyopia? What about bifocals or contact lenses? Many people take for granted the gift of sight and healthy eyes. Yet those who have problems with their sight and other diseases of the eye need specialized treatment. Optometrists examine eyes, prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses and also administer and prescribe drugs to aid in the diagnosis of eye vision problems and treat eye problems.

Many people confuse optometrists with ophthalmologists or opticians, however ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and opticians are the people who fit and make your eyeglasses.

Optometrists use special instruments, procedures or agents to measure, examine or diagnose visual defects or abnormal conditions of the eye. They diagnose nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatisms, glaucoma and retinal disorders, especially in patients with diabetes and hypertension. A common eye condition is an astigmatism, in which light entering the eye is unable to be brought to a single focus, resulting in vision being blurred at all distances.

If diagnosed with a vision problem, an optometrist will write up a prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses. They may also prescribe medications to treat eye diseases, such a eye drops, and perform certain surgical procedures. Optometrists will also test to determine the patient's ability to focus and coordinate the eye, judge depth perception, and see colors accurately.

A common method used in treatment and diagnoses is dilation. The optometrist shines a bright light into a patient's eyes, causing the pupil to constrict. Using dilating drops allows the optometrist to use the instruments necessary to evaluate the posterior portion of the eye, including the retina and optic nerve, without the pupil becoming smaller. In fact, the large, dilated pupil allows a much better view all the way to the "far corners" of the retina.

Some optometrists perform laser correction surgery. Although this surgery has only been widely available for about a decade, it is strongly believed that there are no long-term consequences. Nevertheless, they do need the proper training to perform such a sophisticated procedure and will only do so if a patient is on the verge of blindness. Finally, some optometrists work as assistants to ophthalmologists, providing pre- and post-operative eye care.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
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  Interests and Skills  
Optometrists are interested in helping people with vision problems and other eye disorders. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. Since they sometimes deal with patients who may be in jeopardy of losing their vision, this can be highly stressful and emotional for both the optometrist and patient.

Optometrists should possess good depth perception, manual dexterity and color vision. They should enjoy finding solutions to problems and constantly dealing with people. Finally, they require spatial and form perception required to interpret test results and identify visual defects.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Examine and measure patients' eyes, conduct visual function tests and use ophthalmoscopes, biomicroscopes and other specialized instruments to determine visual efficiency
  • Prescribe treatment (excluding surgery) to conserve, improve and correct vision and other ocular disorders
  • Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, counsel patients on contact lens use and care, visual hygiene, lighting arrangements, working distances and safety factors
  • Remove non-penetrating foreign bodies (e.g. metal) from the eye
  • Suggest eye exercises to achieve accurate and comfortable vision
  • Diagnose diseases and disorders of vision and refer patients to ophthalmologists or other physicians and surgeons when ocular or other diseases are found
  • Treat glaucoma in co-management arrangements with opthalmologists
  • Treat certain eye conditions with therapeutic drugs
  • Educate and counsel patients about contact lens care, appropriate lighting and sunglasses/tints, and eye safety at home and the workplace
  • Provide teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists and other professionals with eye health information on their clients or students
  • The majority of optometrists are self-employed, therefore there can be a great deal of flexibility in determining working hours. Depending on certain patients' schedules, they may often work on weekends or evenings to accommodate them. Most of their working time is spent in office environments or examining rooms.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Optometrists may work in their own private practice or with a group of optometrists in a large practice. They also work in clinics and community health centers.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Optometrists may decide to become involved in areas of public health, such as advising parents about potential eye hazards for children, diagnosing perceptual eye handicaps which hinder a child's learning, consulting with industrial safety personnel on the optical safety of employees, or fitting low vision patients whose vision can only be improved through the use of special magnifying devices. Optometrists that continue their education may move into research, teaching or industrial applications of vision science.

  Educational Paths  
Licensed optometrists must earn a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited optometry school and pass a written and a clinical State board examination. Admission to optometry school is competitive.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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