Different Types of Eye Doctors: Questions and Answers

written by

Eye health is really important for our overall well-being and how we enjoy life. Being able to see well lets us connect with the world, do our daily tasks easily, and appreciate what’s around us. But having good eye health is more than just seeing clearly; it’s also about preventing, spotting, and treating various eye problems that could affect our vision over time.

Eye care experts are key to keeping our eyes healthy. They know how to do a lot of things, like thorough eye checks to catch any early signs of eye problems, prescribe glasses or contacts, and even do complex eye surgeries. Their skills are essential for stopping vision loss, handling ongoing eye issues, and making sure we can see as well as possible all through our lives.

There are a few different kinds of eye doctors, each with their own area of expertise in eye care. Optometrists mainly help with checking your vision and prescribing glasses or contacts. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who do more in-depth eye care, including surgeries. Opticians are the ones who fit and give out glasses or contacts based on what the optometrists or ophthalmologists say you need. Knowing what each of these eye care pros do can help you figure out who to see for your eye care needs.

What are the 3 types of eye doctors?

eye doctors


Optometrists serve as primary vision care providers, offering a wide range of services from vision testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of vision changes.

Individuals aspiring to become optometrists pursue their education in optometry schools rather than medical schools, requiring four years of postgraduate study to earn a Doctor of Optometry degree.

Optometry practice encompasses various responsibilities, including:

  1. Conducting comprehensive eye exams to assess vision and eye health.
  2. Performing vision tests to evaluate visual acuity and visual field.
  3. Prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses to address refractive errors.
  4. Detecting eye abnormalities and conditions through detailed examinations.
  5. Prescribing medications for certain eye diseases and conditions.
  6. Offering visual rehabilitation services to help improve visual function.

While optometrists are not primarily surgical specialists and generally do not conduct major surgeries, they are qualified to perform certain minor surgical procedures, such as laser eye treatments and removing foreign bodies from the eye.

The scope of practice for optometrists can vary significantly based on the regulations set forth by regional or national boards of optometry in different states or countries. It’s advisable to consult these boards to understand the specific services an optometrist can provide in a particular region.

Optometrists are often more accessible than ophthalmologists, making them a convenient first point of contact for eye care needs. Before seeking an ophthalmologist, it’s beneficial to determine if an optometrist can perform the required tests or procedures.

In addition to the aforementioned services, optometrists may also offer other specialized services, including:

  • Prescription of Controlled Substances: In the United States, the authority for optometrists to prescribe medications, including controlled substances such as opioids (e.g., hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone), is determined by state optometry boards.
  • Foreign Body Removal: In certain states, optometrists are authorized to perform foreign body removal, a procedure to extract small objects or debris from the cornea or conjunctiva that may affect eye health.
  • Laser Eye Surgery: Some states permit optometrists to conduct laser eye surgeries, expanding their role in eye care and treatment.

These additional capabilities further illustrate the evolving and diverse role of optometrists in providing comprehensive eye care and ensuring the well-being of their patients’ vision.


What Is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in eye and vision care, capable of treating complex eye issues through surgery and other advanced procedures. Their extensive training includes completing medical school, followed by a 1-year internship and a 3-year residency in ophthalmology. Some choose to further specialize by undertaking a fellowship lasting 1-2 years in specific areas of eye care.

Ophthalmologists provide comprehensive eye care services, which encompass:

  • Vision services, including conducting thorough eye exams to assess vision health and prescribe corrective lenses.
  • Medical eye care for various conditions, such as glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns, utilizing a wide range of treatments from medication to advanced surgical techniques.
  • Surgical eye care addressing issues like trauma, cataracts, glaucoma, and crossed eyes, employing precise surgical interventions to restore or improve vision.
  • Diagnosis and management of eye problems associated with systemic diseases like diabetes or arthritis, offering specialized care to mitigate these conditions’ impact on eye health.
  • Cosmetic and reconstructive surgery to correct or enhance eyelid appearance, including procedures to lift droopy eyelids or reduce wrinkles around the eyes, enhancing both function and aesthetics.

Ophthalmology encompasses several subspecialties, each focusing on specific areas of eye care:

  • Pediatric Ophthalmology: These specialists address eye problems in children, including surgical treatments for conditions like crossed eyes or cataracts and managing retinal problems in premature infants or inflammation leading to vision loss.
  • Neuro-Ophthalmology: Focused on eye issues stemming from neurological problems or affecting the optic nerve, these doctors treat conditions like drooping eyes, uncontrolled eye movements, migraines, and eyelid spasms that may impact vision.
  • Ocular Oncology: Specialists in this area diagnose and treat cancers related to the eye, including tumors of the eye itself, the eyelids, and the orbit, offering both medical and surgical care to manage these serious conditions.

Ophthalmologists are integral to providing advanced eye care, from routine vision correction to treating complex eye diseases and performing sophisticated surgeries, ensuring comprehensive care for patients’ vision and eye health.


Opticians are technical practitioners who specialize in fitting and dispensing eyeglasses and contact lenses prescribed by optometrists or ophthalmologists. They play a crucial role in the eye care team, focusing on ensuring that corrective eyewear is properly fitted to meet the individual needs of patients.

The pathway to becoming an optician varies by country and region, often involving a combination of formal education, apprenticeship, and certification. In many places, opticians complete a diploma or associate degree program in opticianry, which typically takes about two years. These programs cover topics such as optical principles, eyewear fitting, lens fabrication, and basic eye anatomy. Following their education, opticians may be required to pass a licensing exam, depending on the regulatory requirements of the jurisdiction in which they practice.

Opticians’ responsibilities include:

  1. Interpreting prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists to determine the specifications of eyeglasses or contact lenses.
  2. Assisting customers in selecting eyeglass frames and lens treatments based on their lifestyle, occupational needs, and aesthetic preferences.
  3. Taking precise measurements of clients’ eyes and facial features to ensure a proper fit of eyewear.
  4. Adjusting, repairing, and maintaining eyeglass frames to ensure comfort and optimal functionality.
  5. Educating clients on how to care for their eyewear and contact lenses.
  6. Managing orders, sales, and inventory of eyewear products and accessories.

Opticians do not conduct eye exams or diagnose eye conditions, but they are essential in the final delivery of corrective lenses, ensuring that the eyewear adheres to the prescription and fits the patient correctly.

By combining technical skills with customer service, opticians contribute significantly to the vision health team, enhancing patients’ vision quality and comfort through expertly fitted eyewear.

eye doctors

What is an eye surgeon called?

An eye surgeon is commonly referred to as an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye and vision care, and they are trained to perform a wide range of eye surgeries to treat conditions, correct vision problems, and improve eye health. These surgeries can include procedures such as cataract removal, glaucoma treatment, refractive surgery (like LASIK), and surgeries for retinal disorders, among others.

Different types of eye doctors comparison

Understanding the types of eye doctors is essential for seeking the right eye care.

Here’s a detailed comparison table of the key roles, training, and capabilities of Optometrists, Ophthalmologists, and Opticians:

Primary RoleProvide primary vision care services, including eye exams, vision tests, and prescribing corrective lenses. Manage certain eye conditions.Provide comprehensive eye care, including medical, surgical, and optical care. Can treat more complex eye conditions and perform surgeries.Specialize in fitting and dispensing eyewear according to prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists. Do not diagnose or treat eye conditions.
EducationBachelor’s degree followed by a 4-year Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree.Bachelor’s degree followed by 4 years of medical school, a 1-year internship, and a 3-4 year residency in ophthalmology. Fellowships of 1-2 years for sub-specialization are common.Education varies by country; typically involves a diploma or associate degree in opticianry, which can take 1-2 years. Some regions require high school education and on-the-job training.
TrainingClinical training during optometry program. Optional residency for further specialization in areas like pediatric optometry, ocular disease, or contact lenses.Extensive clinical and surgical training during residency. Additional specialized training if pursuing a fellowship in areas like retina, cornea, pediatrics, or glaucoma.Technical training in eyeglass and contact lens fitting, adjustments, and repairs. Some opticians complete apprenticeships.
CapabilitiesConduct eye exams and vision testsPrescribe eyeglasses and contact lensesDetect eye abnormalitiesTreat certain eye diseases with medicationsConduct eye exams and sophisticated diagnostic tests Prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses, and medications Perform eye surgeriesTreat all eye diseasesInterpret eyewear prescriptionsHelp select frames and lensesFit and adjust eyewearEducate customers on eyewear care
SurgeryLimited to minor procedures in some jurisdictions, such as foreign body removal or laser treatments.Qualified to perform a wide range of eye surgeries, from cataract extraction and glaucoma procedures to retinal repairs and refractive surgery.Do not perform surgery.

Some other specialist for the eyes

Ophthalmic Medical Assistants

Ophthalmic Medical Assistants are allied health professionals who work under the supervision of ophthalmologists to provide patient care in the field of eye care services. Their role is crucial in assisting ophthalmologists with office duties and patient care, ensuring the clinic runs smoothly and efficiently.

Their responsibilities can include:

  • Conducting preliminary eye function tests before the patient sees the ophthalmologist, such as measuring vision, testing eye pressure (important for glaucoma screening), and assessing the health of the retina.
  • Assisting with patient education by explaining testing procedures, eye care instructions, and medication usage.
  • Administering eye medications under the direction of the ophthalmologist.
  • Assisting the ophthalmologist during examinations and minor surgical procedures by handling instruments, operating equipment, and ensuring patient comfort.
  • Performing administrative duties, such as scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, and handling billing.

To become an Ophthalmic Medical Assistant, one typically needs to complete a postsecondary certificate or associate degree program in ophthalmic medical technology, which includes both classroom instruction and clinical training. Certification is available and may be preferred by employers, but requirements can vary by location. These professionals are essential to the eye care team, contributing significantly to patient care and the overall efficiency of ophthalmic practices.

Ophthalmic Technicians/Technologists

Ophthalmic Technicians or Technologists are specialized professionals who work closely with ophthalmologists to provide comprehensive eye care and support. They possess a higher level of training and expertise compared to Ophthalmic Medical Assistants, allowing them to perform more complex diagnostic tests, assist in advanced clinical procedures, and take on greater responsibilities in patient care.

Their duties often include:

  • Conducting advanced diagnostic tests to assess the health of the eyes and vision, such as visual field testing, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and corneal topography.
  • Assisting in minor office surgeries and laser treatments by setting up the necessary equipment and providing assistance during the procedures.
  • Taking detailed patient histories and performing preliminary eye exams, including measurements of visual acuity, lens prescriptions, and eye pressure.
  • Managing and maintaining ophthalmic equipment and instruments, ensuring they are calibrated and functioning correctly.
  • Providing patient education on eye care, surgical procedures, and the use of corrective lenses or medications.

To become an Ophthalmic Technician or Technologist, individuals typically need to complete a more extensive educational program than what is required for an Ophthalmic Medical Assistant. This may involve a 2-year associate degree or a certificate program in ophthalmic technology, along with hands-on clinical training. Many also pursue certification through recognized professional organizations, which can require passing an exam and maintaining ongoing education.

Ophthalmic Technicians and Technologists play a vital role in the eye care team, contributing their specialized skills and knowledge to support the diagnosis, treatment, and management of various eye conditions, enhancing the quality of care provided to patients.

Understanding Eye Care: Choosing the Right Eye Doctor for You

In this article, we learned about the different eye doctors and what they do. Optometrists help check your eyes and give you glasses or contacts. Ophthalmologists are the ones who can do eye surgery. Opticians fit your glasses or contacts. Knowing who these eye doctors are helps you decide who to see for your eye needs. Whether it’s a regular check-up or something more serious, choosing the right eye doctor is important for keeping your eyes healthy. So next time you need eye care, you’ll know which eye doctor to visit.

What is the best type of eye doctor to see?

For general eye care, including prescriptions for eye medications, monitoring and managing eye diseases, or emergency eye care, you should see a medical optometrist. If you need surgical treatment for serious eye conditions, advanced eye problems, or refractive eye surgery, you should visit an ophthalmologist.

Do optometrists attend medical school?

Optometrists do not go to medical school. They must complete optometry school to practice and they typically work in private practice settings. On the other hand, ophthalmologists are medical doctors who have completed medical school and a residency. They perform eye surgery and handle inpatient medical procedures for chronic and urgent issues.

Can a vision test be inaccurate?

Yes, several factors can lead to incorrect results in a vision test:
Wearing contact lenses can change the shape of the cornea, affecting the results.
Medications can affect visual performance; for example, they can alter the production of tear fluid.