Three Eye Care Professionals and What They Do

When you look for a new eye doctor, you might notice eye that professionals carry several different titles. If you don’t know whether to have an ophthalmologist or an optician adjust your glasses, and you wonder if an optometrist can perform LASIK surgery, you could use an overview of what exactly these different professionals do.

Although the three main titles in eye care sound similar, opticians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists all perform separate jobs. Read on to find out which type of eye care provider fits your needs.


Lesser known than optometrists and ophthalmologists, you’ll find opticians working in eye doctor’s offices and retail stores. They often work alongside other eye professionals to fit patients with vision-correction devices. Opticians are medical professionals; however, they are not eye doctors.

How Opticians Are Trained

Opticians usually hold at least a high school diploma. For specific training on eyes, eye glasses, contact lenses, and other related devices, many opticians complete on-the-job training in a doctor’s office. Opticians can also undergo a professional program through a vocational school or college.

If opticians choose to attend college or vocational school for their training, they usually earn either a certificate of completion or an associate’s degree. Only 23 states require opticians to hold professional licenses. Illinois does not require opticians to get a license.

What Opticians Do

Opticians can help fit you with eyeglasses, contacts, and vision-correction devices. They’ll use the prescription you get from your eye doctor to determine which frames, lenses, and materials work best for your eyes.

You cannot get an eye exam from an optician. They also cannot write you a prescription for any medical devices or medications.

When to See an Optician

See an optician after your visit with the eye doctor. They’ll help you choose the right glasses, find prescription sunglasses, or order a supply of contact lenses. You can also see an optician to repair or adjust the glasses you already have.


Optometrists are eye doctors. They generally work in private practice or retail eyewear stores. Most optometrists who work in stores still operate as independent doctors who contract with retail locations. Some optometrists also work in ophthalmologists’ offices or hospitals.

How Optometrists Are Trained

Optometrists generally complete four years of undergraduate work before attending optometry school. They earn a Doctor of Optometry degree (OD). However, they are not considered physicians. In addition to an OD, some optometrists complete additional clinical work.

What Optometrists Do

If you go in for a routine eye exam, you’ll probably see an optometrist. Optometrists perform exams and write prescriptions for vision-correction devices and therapies. In some states, optometrists also prescribe eye-related medications.

While optometrists can diagnose and treat eye diseases, they will usually refer you to an ophthalmologist for serious conditions. Optometrists can test for things such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. However, they cannot perform surgery or provide some types of treatment.

When to See an Optometrist

Make an appointment with an optometrist for your annual eye exam. They’ll check the overall health of your eyes, test your vision, and renew or write your contact lens and glasses prescriptions.

Many optometrists also sell eyeglasses and contacts through optical shops inside their practices. This way, you can get your eye-wear straight from the doctor’s office.


Ophthalmologists undergo the most education and training of all eye professionals. They work in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and as independent doctors. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in eye health, diseases, and treatments.

How Ophthalmologists Are Trained

Since ophthalmologists are physicians as well as eye doctors, they have to attend four years of undergraduate school and finish eight years of medical school and rigorous clinical training before going on to specialize in ophthalmology.

Doctors face heavy competition to enter ophthalmology programs. Of the physicians who complete these programs, some even go on to study a subspecialty for another year or two. Subspecialties deal with specific aspects of eye health and treatment, such as retinal, corneal, and pediatric care.

What Ophthalmologists Do

Ophthalmologists do everything optometrists do, including routine eye exams and prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses. Along with these services, ophthalmologists perform surgery, treat complicated eye conditions, and prescribe a variety of medications and therapies.

Many ophthalmologists also focus on research to develop new surgical techniques, learn more about various eye diseases, and come up with more effective treatments.

When to See an Ophthalmologist

You’ll want to see an ophthalmologist if you’re concerned about specific eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. If you would like to have LASIK surgery to correct your vision, you’ll need an ophthalmologist to perform it.

You can also see an ophthalmologist for annual eye exams and vision correction. However, optometrists provide these routine services more often.

Now you know what each type of eye care professional does, you can find the right provider for you!