Becoming an Eye Doctor: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
An optometrist's mean annual salary is $113,010, but is it worth the education requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of Becoming an Eye Doctor

Optometrists, or doctors of optometry, provide general vision care through examination, diagnosis and treatment. Read on for the pros and cons of becoming an eye doctor.

PROS of Becoming an Eye Doctor
Improving patients' quality of life*
Variety of specialty options*
High job growth (24% increase from 2012-2022)*
High average salary ($113,010 as of 2014)*

CONS of Becoming an Eye Doctor
Requires at least 4 years of school beyond an undergraduate degree*
Admission to schools can be competitive*
License renewal and continuing education periodically*
Possible long hours and on-call work*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Optometrists provide many types of eye care, including eyeglass and contact lens prescription, vision testing and disease diagnosis. In this career, you may treat eye disorders, such as glaucoma or low vision, using medication or vision therapy. You'll also provide pre- and post-operative care, which can include seeing patients for checkups after a surgery. These professionals, however, do not conduct surgery, which is the function of an ophthalmologist.

Most optometrists work in solo or group optometry offices. You might also find employment in a doctor's office, hospital, retail store or outpatient eye care clinic, or you could work as an independent contractor at an optical franchise. While you'll generally work full-time, you may have to work nights and weekends to suit patients' schedules. Some optometrists, particularly those who work in group practices, choose to specialize in a type of eye care. You could, for example, provide care to people who suffer from low vision or ocular disease. Other specialties include pediatric and geriatric optometry, refractive surgery and community health.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

Optometrists earned a mean salary of about $113,010 as of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The highest-paid of these professionals worked in physicians' offices, earning nearly $139,050 on average per year. Optometrists in outpatient care centers were also among the highest-paid, bringing in about $117,450 on average per year. The BLS reports that employment of this profession was projected to grow by 24% from 2012-2022, which is a faster-than-average rate compared to all occupations. However, keep in mind that this is a small occupation, so the number of jobs nationwide will only increase by about 8,100.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

To become an optometrist, you must earn a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree from an accredited optometry school. Gaining admission to an O.D. program is a competitive process and typically entails completion of a bachelor's degree program. You may, however, gain admission after completing only three years of undergraduate school as long as you've met prerequisite courses, such as in chemistry, math and biology. You will also need to pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).

Once enrolled, you'll complete four years of didactic, laboratory and clinical instruction in topics like biochemistry and visual science. You'll learn to diagnose and treat ocular disorders and diseases, often through hands-on, supervised experience in eye care clinics. Optometrists who wish to specialize can go on to take a 1-year postgraduate residency program to gain expertise in the area.

Licensure

No matter what state you work in, you must be licensed to practice optometry. After graduating from an accredited D.O. program, you must pass an exam administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Depending on your location, you may be required to pass additional, state-administered exams. Additionally, continuing education and license renewal are typically required.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Education and licensure are the most common requirements found in job postings for optometrists. Some employers require experience and professional references, while others will hire recent graduates. Here are a few examples of postings listed in March 2012:

  • A Pennsylvania ophthalmologist practice was seeking an experienced optometrist with professional references to work with a team of physician assistants, optometrists and ophthalmologists in performing all types of eye care.
  • A retail store in Iowa advertised for an experienced optometrist or recent D.O. graduate to provide eye exams, diagnose and treat eye diseases and fit contact lenses.
  • A group practice in New York placement was looking for a licensed, associate optometrist. The full-time position requires the optometrist to split his or her time between two locations and provide a wide range of vision care.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Optometrists who wish to stand out in the field can maximize their skills through advanced education. A master's or Ph.D. in an applicable field, like visual science, physiological optics or public health, can expand your knowledge base and open up opportunities for teaching or research work.

Develop Related Skills

Optometrists work closely with patients, ophthalmologists, opticians and other staff, so they must have stronger interpersonal and communication skills. One way to develop these skills is to take undergraduate courses in topics like speech and communications. If you intend on starting your own optometry practice, you may benefit from taking courses in business and finance during undergraduate school to prepare for the responsibilities of owning a business. Other beneficial traits for optometrists include:

  • Good manual dexterity
  • Strong analytical and decision-making skills
  • Self-discipline and attention-to-detail

Alternative Career Paths

Ophthalmologist

If you are interested in more complex medical and surgical eye care in addition to basic vision care, a career in ophthalmology may be right for you. These professionals are considered physicians and surgeons, and so schooling can take up to 12 years beyond undergraduate school. Ophthalmologists must also become licensed. Pay, however, can be significantly higher than that of an optometrist; according to PayScale.com, most ophthalmologists earned between $90,000 and $300,000 per year as of March 2012.

Medical Scientist

If you want to work in the medical field but don't want direct patient interaction, a career in medical science and research may be a good fit. Medical scientists research new diseases and pathogens to develop disease prevention techniques, vaccines and treatments. Most medical scientists earn a bachelor's degree plus a 6-year Ph.D. or a 7-8 year combined Ph.D.-M.D. degree in a specialized field of interest. According to the BLS, this field was expected to be among the fastest growing occupations in the nation, with a projected growth rate of 36% from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. California InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctorate in Healthcare Management and Leadership
      • Doctorate in Healthcare Management and Leadership
  • San Antonio, TX

    University of the Incarnate Word

  • Birmingham, AL

    University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • New York, NY

    SUNY College of Optometry

  • Memphis, TN

    Southern College of Optometry

  • Elkins Park, PA

    Salus University

  • Forest Grove, OR

    Pacific University

  • Pomona, CA

    Western University of Health Sciences

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Nova Southeastern University

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

California InterContinental University

  • Doctorate in Healthcare Management and Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Incarnate Word

University of Alabama at Birmingham

SUNY College of Optometry

Southern College of Optometry

Salus University

Pacific University