How to Become an Optometrist
Doctor of Optometry programs combine classroom learning and clinical experience.
Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. O.D. programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering such a program.
Optometrists need an O.D. degree. In 2016, there were 20 accredited O.D. programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico.
Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education. Required courses include those in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. Most students have a bachelor’s degree with a premedical or biological sciences emphasis before enrolling in an O.D. program.
Applicants to O.D. programs must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), a computerized exam that tests applicants in four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.
O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.
After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize. Areas of specialization for residency programs include family practice, low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. degree from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam.
Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on laws relating to optometry. All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.
Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become board certified by the American Board of Optometry.
Decisionmaking skills. Optometrists must evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.
Detail oriented. Optometrists must ensure that patients receive appropriate treatment and that medications and prescriptions are accurate. They must also monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
Interpersonal skills. Optometrists spend most of their time examining patients, so they must be at ease interacting with patients and must make them feel comfortable during treatment.
Speaking skills. Optometrists must clearly explain eye care instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.