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What are the Duties, Responsibilities and Credentials of the Various Eye Professionals?

Ophthalmologist – A medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in surgical eye care. In the US, this requires four years of college, four years of medical school, and three years of residency, fellowship and sub specialty training from 1 to 2 years additionally. Since ophthalmologists perform operations on eyes, they are considered to be both surgical and medical specialists. The word ophthalmology comes from the Greek roots ophthalmos meaning eye and logos meaning word, thought, or discourse; ophthalmology literally means “the science of eyes”. “Ophthalmology” is a common mishearing or misremembering of the term. As a discipline, it applies to animal eyes also, since the differences from human practice are surprisingly minor and are related mainly to differences in anatomy or prevalence, not differences in disease processes. However, veterinary medicine is regulated separately in many countries and states/provinces resulting in few ophthalmologists treating both humans and animals.

Ophthalmic Medical Practitioner – A medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in ophthalmic conditions but who has not completed a specialization in ophthalmology.

Optometrist – An eye doctor (OD) who treats eye diseases and disorders as well as refractive vision correction. In the United States, they are defined as physicians under medicare, and all states allow treatment of eye diseases by therapeutic licensed optometrists, but the extent varies by state. In addition to prescription eye drops, 47 states have oral prescribing rights, and Oklahoma allows for certain laser procedures. In other countries they can treat with a limited number of pharmaceuticals. In the US and a small number of countries they do perform level 1 surgeries. In most countries, optometry is either a 4 year or 5 year college degree and they are not classified as Doctors (except in the Philippines). In the USA, the standard education is four years of college and four years of optometry school at an accredited Doctor of Optometry (OD) program. An additional one to two years of residency, internship, fellowship and/or specialty training is required for qualification in certain positions. All optometry colleges in the U.S. currently provide training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and level 1 in office surgical procedures.

Orthoptist – Specializes in diagnosis and management of ocular motility, amblyopia and binocular vision disorders, as outlined by the International Orthoptic Association. They may assist ophthalmologists in surgery,teach orthoptic students, students of other allied health professions, medical students, and ophthalmology residents and fellows, act as vision researchers, perform vision screening, perform low vision assessments and act as clinical administrators. In many countries orthoptic education requires an undergraduate degree for program entry followed by a couple years of postgraduate studies in orthoptics In other countries orthoptics if offered as an Masters degree.
Ocularist – Specialize in the fabrication and fitting of ocular prostheses for people who have lost eyes due to trauma or illness.

Optician – Specializes in the fitting and fabrication of ophthalmic lenses, spectacles, contact lenses, low vision aids and ocular prosthetics. They may also be referred to as an “optical dispenser”, “dispensing optician”, “ophthalmic dispenser”. The prescription for the corrective lenses must be supplied by an ophthalmologist, optometrist or in some countries an orthoptist. This is a regulated profession in most jurisdictions.