Prepare for an Optometrist Career
Optometrists are eye doctors. They provide vision care for patients’ eyes and check for vision problems and eye diseases. They do this by testing for depth and color perception, coordination, focusing and visual acuity. They help treat vision problems by prescribing eyeglasses, contact lenses and sometimes drugs. They help prevent vision problems from occurring or getting worse. They promote healthy habits, just like regular doctors. They treat patients before and after major eye surgeries such as cataract removal and laser vision correction.
As an optometrist you have the option of starting your own practice, or working for an existing company. While both paths are rewarding, you will need to decide what is best for you. If you start your own practice it will require diligence and effort as you find more and more patients. Many optometry graduates find success working a part time job at an existing eye doctor’s office while starting their own practice. As you are considering studying optometry, be sure to set your goals high!
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Most optometrists work in a general practice, while some work as teachers, consultants or researchers. Some work in hospitals, insurance companies and for the government. Those who work in a general practice often have a specialty, such as sports vision or vision correction, or a specific clientele, such as children or the elderly. Those with their own practice are responsible for general office duties, such as keeping records, ordering supplies, acquiring patients and hiring help.
Optometrists have comfortable working environments. They work in their own offices and usually during standard business hours. However, some may work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients who work full-time. Some may also perform emergency calls.
Optometrist Career Outlook
Employment in the optometry field is expected to be excellent. Due to the increase in the elderly population, who often has more vision problems, more optometrists will be needed. As vision care plans improve, more people will take advantage of them and take better care of their eyesight, thus increasing employment opportunities for optometrists.
Because there are only 19 optometry schools in the United States, the number of graduates each year is limited – 1,200 or so. This number does not keep up with the demand. In addition to growth, about one-quarter of current optometrists are ready to retire, creating more opportunities to replace them.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Students must apply for and complete an accredited optometry program. Most programs require a bachelor’s degree, usually in science, and at least three years of pre-optometry classes. These include math, chemistry, biology, physics and English. Additional courses in speech, history, business, psychology and sociology may also be required. One must also pass the Optometry Admissions Test before gaining entry into an optometry school. This test is usually taken in the sophomore or junior year of college and measures academic ability as well as comprehension of science.
Once accepted into an optometry program, students can expect to take courses in biochemistry, optics, vision science, pharmacology and systemic disease. Students get hands-on training in diagnosing and treating eye diseases as well as classroom instruction in sciences. The average optometry program takes four years to complete. However, if an optometrist plans to specialize in a specific type of optometry, such as family practice, pediatrics or geriatrics, they must also attend a year-long residency program.
Those who wish to teach, perform research or work as a consultant often need additional schooling. A master’s or Ph.D. degree may be required in optics, visual science, neurophysiology, public health or health education.
Optometrists must have a license to legally practice optometry in the United States. This requires a Doctor of Optometry degree. Optometrists must also pass a written and clinical board examination. Instead of the written exam, a test taken through the National Board of Examiners in Optometry can sometimes be taken in its place. License renewal occurs at least every three years and requires continuing education credits.
The average salary for salaried optometrists is $96,320 annually, with those who are self-employed earning $175,329 per year. The annual average for all optometrists, including those who are self-employed, is $110,000.*
Although those who are salaried earn more at first, self-employed optometrists tend to make more overall. Earnings vary according to group size. Those in mid-size groups earn the most, at an average of $179,205 annually. Individual optometrists earn the least, at $134,094.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Steps to Become an Optometrist
If you’re interested in becoming an optometrist, it’s best to start in high school. While in high school, take as many math and science courses as you can, especially in biology and chemistry. When choosing a college, look for one that offers a pre-optometry program with classes that qualify for optometry school. Check with your high school guidance counselor to find schools that offer this program. Once you find one and obtain a bachelor’s degree, you can then move on to optometry school.
Optometry school is very competitive. Before enrolling, you must take and pass the Optometry Admission Test. Once you pass, start looking for accredited optometry schools. There are only 19 schools in the country, so you may have to relocate in order to attend school. Once you find a school and graduate from the four-year program, you must pass a clinical and written board exam. After you pass the tests, you can apply for your state license. Each state has different licensing procedures, so you’ll need to ask before applying. If you’re considering a specialty in an optometry field, you may need to enroll in a one-year residency program.