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What is the Difference Between an Optician and an Optometrist?

When deciding upon a career in the eye-healthcare field, it's important to know the difference between an optician and an optometrist. The educational requirements, job descriptions, and salaries differ between these two careers. Make an informed decision by knowing what each choice entails.

  • An optician is the person who fills a prescription for corrective lenses that is written by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. He makes the lenses that go into eyeglass frames. He can also help the patient choose eyeglass frames that suit his or her face and that will be compatible with the type of lenses prescribed. For patients who wish to buy contact lenses, the optician will dispense the appropriate prescription.
  • An optometrist diagnoses and treats various disorders of the eye. He also provides eye exams and writes prescriptions for corrective lenses when needed. They can provide most eye care that is needed, but they do not perform surgery.

Education

Opticians can either go to college to learn their trade, or they can learn as an apprentice in a career training program, which lasts two years or more. In their program of choice, they learn:

  • How different types of vision correction take place, and how to fabricate lenses based on the patient's vision needs.
  • How to read prescriptions and apply this knowledge to making the lenses with the correct materials and thickness for the individual patient.

Students who wish to be opticians usually also learn about managing a business and basic office skills.

Optometrists have more extensive training than opticians. They must first complete a bachelor's degree in pre-medicine, pre-optometry, or a related field that includes advanced courses in science, mathematics, and health. After their undergraduate degree is complete, they then attend optometry school for four additional years. While in optometry school, they learn about:

  • Diseases of the eye
  • Vision problems,
  • Diseases of the body that also affect the eyes.

Optometry school graduates must pass a board exam, after which they are awarded a Doctor of Optometry degree. Some optometrists go directly into the field at this point, and others pursue a more specialized degree, such as pediatric optometry, or geriatric optometry.

Like most doctors and many other healthcare professionals, optometrists must take continuing education classes throughout the course of their careers.

Job Description

When an optician receives a prescription for eyeglasses for a patient, he will meet with the patient to discuss her needs. He will ask the patient questions about activities and preferences, as well as take note of her facial features to help her choose the best frames for her. He will also take measurements of the patient's face to be sure that the glasses that he will make will fit correctly. Some opticians will fit the lenses to the frames themselves, and others will pass the task on to a technician. When the glasses are ready, the optician will fit the frames to the patient's face.

Opticians also fabricate contact lenses. They must follow the prescription written by the optometrist or ophthalmologist and be sure that the lenses fit the patient's eye perfectly.

Other duties that an optician performs include fixing broken glasses, bending frames to fit a patient better, and using special tools to find out what prescription a patient has on her glasses when records are unavailable. An optician also usually is responsible for basic office duties such as filing, making phone calls, updating patient records, and ordering supplies. They usually work mostly during the day, with some evenings or weekends required.

Optometrists often have their own practices where they see patients. Others work for clinics or hospitals. They perform routine vision exams on people. They also test for different diseases of the eye, such as glaucoma, vision loss, and eye infections. They write prescriptions for corrective lenses.

Sometimes an optometrist must refer a patient who needs eye surgery to an ophthalmologist, who is a medical doctor who specializes in disorders of the eye. Optometrists also sometimes refer patients to other types of medical doctors if their eye exam shows signs or symptoms of other diseases, such as high blood pressure, tumors, or diabetes.

Many optometrists don't have to perform daily office work, because they usually have assistants, technicians, or opticians that do those types of duties. They might work only during the day, or their schedules might include some evenings or weekends to accommodate patients.

Salary

In July 2008, the average optician in the United States made about $40,000 annually. The average optometrist made about $102,000 per year. These estimates vary depending on what part of the country the individual professional worked in, how many years of experience the person had, and how large of a company the person worked for.

The educational requirements, job descriptions, and salary expectations vary greatly between different types of eye care professionals. Make an informed choice when deciding upon the best career for you in this field.


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