How are ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians different?

Ophthalmologists (Eye M.D.s) are different from optometrists and opticians in their training and in what they can diagnose and treat.  Dr. Haas is an ophthalmologist.

As a medical doctor (physician), an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and surgery. He or she diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery, and can prescribe and/or fit glasses and contact lenses.  Though Dr. Haas can give a written prescription for glasses, he does not sell glasses or contact lenses at his office.

Ophthalmologists complete

  • four years of college;
  • four years of medical school;
  • one year of internship; and
  • at least three years of residency (hospital-based training) in the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of eye disorders.

While all ophthalmologists specialize in eye problems and can treat all conditions, some decide to concentrate in a specific area of medical or surgical eye care. These ophthalmologists are called subspecialists. They usually complete a fellowship, which requires one or two more years of training in the chosen area.  Dr. Haas is a comprehensive ophthalmologist who specializes in cataract surgery, but sees and treats all other medical disorders of the eye, including macular degeneration, diabetes, glaucoma and dry eyes.  He works with local subspecialists when a patient’s medical condition requires care beyond his training.

Optometrists
are doctors of optometry, licensed to practice optometry. They complete

  • two to four years of college;
  • four years of optometry school;
  • optional medical residencies for additional training.

Optometrists focus on performing examinations for glasses and contact lens fittings, but some will perform non-surgical medical examinations as well for various eye disorders.  In some states (including Colorado), optometrists can prescribe certain kinds of drugs to help diagnose and treat different eye conditions. Optometrists generally do not perform surgery, but may work with ophthalmologists in performing medical examinations and post-operative visits in patients after their surgery.
An optician is licensed by the state to make optical aids. He or she fits, adjusts, and dispenses eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other optical devices according to the prescription of a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. Training for opticians varies from a preceptorship to two years of opticianry school.