The Difference Between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician

The Difference Between an Ophthalmologist, Optometrist and Optician

Posted by Paul Gibson on

The role of an Optician has become hazy over the years and is now typically used to describe all eye specialists, for example, most people who are going to have their eyes checked will usually say something like ‘I am going to the opticians’. However, this isn’t exactly right, in fact when you do go to ‘get your eyes checked’ you will likely see multiple different people and each of these people is likely to have different roles.

 1. What is an Optician?

An Optician or ‘dispensing optician’ are technicians who are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases. Opticians are instead there to interpret prescriptions supplied by other specialists to dispense and advise corrective lenses for glasses and visual appliances or contact lenses with additional training as a CL Optician.


However, Opticians are not trained to test vision or prescribe anything to patients.

2. What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is a health care professional and the person you are more likely to see to have your eyes checked. Optometrists usually perform your primary sight test refraction and diagnosis. Although an optometrist is not a medically qualified doctor they must complete 3-year optometry Optometry & Visual Science Degree and a pre-registration training year to build their experience in the practice environment to become an Optometrist.

Optometrists are not trained or permitted to perform any kind of surgery, being licenced to perform optometry involves prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, appliances and visual aids. In cases were abnormalities are discovered Optometrists have a duty of care to investigate thoroughly, record and refer to an appropriate professional for diagnosis and possible ongoing treatment.

In recent years Optometrists can take further training to specialise in prescribing therapeutics treatments for minor manageable conditions.

3. What is an Ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists are medical/osteopathic doctors and are the highest trained eye specialists. These specialists are medical doctors who have completed a bachelor’s degree as well as a minimum of 8 years of additional medical training comprised of a Doctor of Medicine program, and an ophthalmology residency. Because of this, they are licenced to practice medicine as well as perform surgery. Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat all forms of eye diseases, from performing surgery to fitting eyeglasses.
Some ophthalmologists then decide to become ‘subspecialists’ by studying in-depth in areas including, but not limited to, the retina, glaucoma and plastic surgery, allowing them to take care of more complex or specific conditions in certain areas of the eye or within certain types of patients.

4. Summary: who can do what?

Ophthalmologists are the only specialist who is a medical doctor and can do the jobs of all of these specialists as they have studied for a longer duration and are therefore more qualified and trained to perform everything from diagnosis to corrective surgery.

Optometrists are capable of performing most primary eyecare like routine eye tests and medical examinations to screen for abnormalities as well as prescribing corrective lens prescriptions. They are also able to dispense and fit glasses and contact lenses and refer suspect eye disease to ophthalmologists. Due to the time spent performing examinations, they rely heavily on the Dispensing Optician to dispense, fit and supply the corrective appliance because of the changing catalogue of lens products available this has become a specialist role since the 1970s.

Although highly skilled and knowledgeable the Dispensing Optician (DO) is not able to perform any kind of primary test or medical examination. But do often support by performing preliminary tests such as tonometry, autorefraction and field of view tests. At all times the Optometrist is responsible to review and interpret results and the next steps to take. DOs do provide an essential role in troubleshooting when patients have difficulties adapting to new glasses and eliminate obvious lens or fitting errors before an Optometrist recheck to give a 2nd opinion.

5. Frequently Asked Questions

Are opticians eye doctors?

Opticians are not eye doctors. Medical eye doctors are called Ophthalmologists however you will usually see an optometrist for your eye examinations and routine eye care, if you have more complicated problems then you will likely be referred to see an ophthalmologist.

Who performs eye tests/exams?

A routine eye test/exam will usually be performed by an Optometrist however they can also be performed by an Ophthalmologist.

Opticians do not perform tests or examinations.

Are optometrists and opticians the same?

No, Opticians design and distribute corrective visual appliances and sometimes medication from the prescriptions written by Optometrists who perform eye tests/exams.

Who prescribes glasses or contacts?

Glasses and contacts are usually prescribed by optometrists however they can also be prescribed by Ophthalmologists.


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