Many people are often confused about the differences between an Ophthalmologist, an Optometrist, and an Optician.
What is an Ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a doctor that has been to medical school which takes up to 6 years. After that, the doctor has to undergo housemanship training for 1 to 2 years before he/she can apply for postgraduate medical training to become an eye specialist. This can take between 4 to 7 years depending on which country you carry out the training in. We also have to sit exams and obtain our qualifications from colleges like the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
After one has qualified to become an Ophthalmologist, one can choose to sub-specialise further to become an expert in a particular part of the eye. It may sound crazy that we have to spend so many years just to become an expert on a tiny organ like the eye but there are actually many things to learn. A retinal specialist is someone who has completed formal ophthalmology training and then spends another 2 to 3 years learning to operate on retinal diseases like retinal detachment, macular hole, epiretinal membrane and diabetic retinopathy. This usually done in a large teaching hospital where there are senior retinal specialists to train you. So a retinal specialist will have spent almost 10 years studying and working after getting their initial medical degree.
What is an Optometrist and Optician?
An optometrist is someone who has completed a Bachelors degree to learn how to prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They can also diagnose common eye diseases but cannot prescribe medications or do surgery. Some optometrists can do further studies until they get a PhD degree and can call themselves “Dr” but they are not medically trained.
Opticians obtain their qualifications via a diploma and are trained to make and adjust spectacles and fit contact lenses. Some opticians also prescribe glasses but this is dependant on their experience.
Ophthalmologists can perform all the tasks that Optometrists and Opticians do but as we are usually too busy managing eye diseases, we often leave this job to them. A patients is usually managed by a team effort whereby the Ophthalmologist can do surgery like cataract surgery and then send the patient to the optometrist or optician to make their new glasses. In countries like USA, Optometrists are fighting to have rights to prescribe medications and do surgery on patients and this has implications of the safety of patients as these optometrists do not have any formal medical training and cannot manage the patient as a whole taking into account their other diseases.
Thanks for reading and have a great week!