Job Duties

Optometrists, sometimes referred to as doctors of optometry, or ODs, provide their clients with many types of vision care and treatment. They diagnose vision problems and eye diseases by examining the eyes of individuals, testing for visual acuity, depth and color perception, and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Based on the results of their eye tests, they recommend various treatments, including eyeglasses, contact lenses, vision therapy, and low-vision rehabilitation. Treatments may include prescribing drugs to patients, and may assist them before and after eye operations. They do not perform eye operations, though, as this is the domain of opthalmologists. When they diagnose other conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, they refer those patients to other specialists.

A majority of optometrists operate a general practice. However, some specialize in areas such as the elderly, children, or partially sighted persons who need specialized visual devices. Some specialize in job safety, creating methods for protecting the eyes of workers from injury. Others specialize in contact lenses, sports vision, or vision therapy. A small number teach, consult, or perform research. Most run their own private practice who are responsible for organizing all aspects of their business, including office functions, hiring, record-keeping, and ordering equipment.

Job Skills

Optometrists should be self-motivated and able to work independently. They need to have the ability to deal with patients in a compassionate and tactful manner. They must have well-developed manual dexterity, as well as attention to detail. Good business sense also comes in very handy.


In 2002, optometrists, including both salaried and self-employed, earned a median annual salary of $110,000. The middle 50% earned between $82,50 and $156,500. Those who were self-employed earned more than those who were salaried.

Training and Education

In every State in the U.S., optometrists are required to be licensed. In order to obtain a license, they must possess a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited optometry school and pass a written and clinical exam. Continuing education is required to renew licenses, which occurs every 1 to 3 years. Students earn a Doctor of Optometry degree by completing 3 years of pre-optometric college study, followed by a 4-year program at an optometry school. Optometry programs are offered at 17 accredited U.S. schools and colleges. Most students of optometry have at least a bachelor’s degree. In order to be admitted to an optometry program, students must have competed courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Some schools require psychology, history, sociology, speech, or business. Many applicants major in biology, chemistry, or another science.

Optometry programs cover the health and visual sciences, along with laboratory and clinical study of eye disorders and courses in pharmacology, optics, vision science, biochemistry, and systemic disease. Optometrists need a master’s or Ph.D. degree in visual science, physiological optics, neurophysiology, public health, health administration, health information and communication, or health education in order to be able to conduct research or teach.


In 2002, optometrists held about 32,000 jobs. About two-thirds were in private practice, and a growing number were involved in a partnership with other optomotrists.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of optometrists is expected to increase about as fast as the average. This is mainly due to a growing and aging population which will need the services of optometrists more and more. Aging baby boomers will become more likely to develop vision problems, some of which will be associated with increased viewing of computer screens.

For more information on becoming an optometrist, please see our directory of schools offering Medical Training