Types of Eye Care Professionals

Ophthalmologists Are Doctors That Specialize in Eye Care

The training required to become an ophthalmologist is very rigorous. They obtain a bachelor’s degree, then four years of medical school followed by a year of residency.

Getting an eye exam from a certified ophthalmologist could save your eyesight. But how do you know which doctors to visit? There are three different types of eye health professionals.


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors that specialize in eye care. They have gone through four years of undergraduate university and four years of medical school before completing five years of ophthalmology residency training in the medical and surgical treatment of eyes. They may choose to subspecialize in a specific area of ophthalmology such as glaucoma, retinal conditions, pediatrics, neurology or plastic surgery which will add an extra year or more of intense and focused medical/surgical training.

Unlike optometrists, who have a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree and did not attend medical school, ophthalmologists are qualified to diagnose and treat all types of eye related diseases and perform surgeries on the eye. Ophthalmologists are able to prescribe any medication that can be administered by mouth or through the eye (drops) including schedule controlled drugs. They use a variety of tests to determine your prescription for glasses or contact lenses, including rebound and indentation tonometry, where the front of your eye is numb and pressed against a handheld device that measures how much force is needed to indent your cornea.


Doctors of Optometry, referred to as optometrists in Canada, are regulated healthcare professionals who perform eye exams and vision tests. They are trained in detecting and managing common eye diseases and conditions, as well as counselling patients on surgical and non-surgical options that best meet their occupations, avocations, and lifestyles.

They also examine the ocular manifestations of systemic diseases, including diabetes. For example, an optometrist may measure a patient’s intraocular pressure (IOP) with a handheld tonometer.

The growing population that recognizes the importance of preventative health and eye care has contributed to increased demand for optometrists. In addition, an increasing number of health insurance plans include coverage for optometry services. Some optometrists are licensed to prescribe scheduled medicines, which enables them to address some of the eye related symptoms of certain diseases and disorders. They may also refer patients to ophthalmologists for official diagnosis and treatment. They often work as part of a team with other eye specialists and healthcare science staff.

Ophthalmic Registered Nurses

As nurses are a key part of healthcare teams, their input is crucial. They are responsible for the care and support of patients and can offer a wide range of clinical services, including instilling eye drops and assessing patient care. They can also perform some minor surgical procedures.

Nurses can be highly effective in educating patients on the symptoms of eye problems and how to manage them at home, which can help to reduce the risk of complications. Nurses can also help patients cope with the psychological impacts of sight loss and visual impairment, especially if they are living with this long term condition.

Nurses can begin their careers by earning a nursing degree from an accredited university or college, and then passing the National Council Licensure Examination to become registered nurses (RNs). They will then be able to apply for positions in specific areas such as ophthalmology. They will need to take additional courses and training to ensure they have the required ophthalmic skills and knowledge.

Ophthalmic Technicians

As a step up from ophthalmic assistants, these clinical workers have more formal, post-high school education and training. They are familiar with ophthalmic pharmacology and have specific job duties that include preparing instruments, performing diagnostic tests and instructing patients on medication use.

In addition to assisting with eye examinations and tests, they also perform various administrative tasks as directed by the physician. Some of these may include preparing medications, calling pharmacies for prescription refills and answering patient questions.

There are two-year schools that offer ophthalmic medical technician programs, and those who obtain certification can improve their chances of career advancement within the field. These health care professionals can make the most of their eye care knowledge by staying current on new technologies and procedures. They also need to have good interpersonal skills as they work with a variety of people in the workplace. The BLS reports that ophthalmic medical technicians made a median salary of $37,180 in 2021.

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