Optometrists are eye doctors that examine and diagnose eye problems. These doctors provide patients with corrective eyewear, surgery or other vision aids. Optometrists also educate their patients regarding maintenance of eye health and how to prevent some common problems. During the day, an optometrist will spend most of the time on their feet; also the job requires bending and stooping frequently, so being in good physical shape is important.
In 2008, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported the average salary of optometrists who were employees of a company or group earned $96,320. Of this group, the middle 50% earned an average salary between $70,140 and $125,460 annually. The average salary of an optometrist employed by another optometrist were $92,670. Optometrists who were self-employed, running their own practices, earned an average annual income of $175,329 in 2007. Those who were a part of an optometry group and shared offices with 2-6 other professionals earned the highest amounts. Optometrists in partnerships followed close behind in salary; private practice optometrists ranked after this, followed by those who were employed by popular optical chain locations. Benefits for health and pension averaged the highest in optical chains, as opposed to private offices, partnerships and groups.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Optometrists must know how the eyes function, what they are made of and common causes of damage. They also must learn what types of optical disorders, infections, diseases and ailments exist, what causes them and how to treat them. When a patient arrives, the optometrist will conduct a basic screening to test how precise their vision is, aided by a letter chart. After reading the chart, the patient will then be examined by the optometrist, who will dilate the eyes and look at them with special light tools. Optometrists also test vision with special optical machines, to determine what prescription numbers a person needs for glasses or contacts. These doctors also must learn how to properly identify astigmatism, cataracts and other problems affecting sight clarity. Eyes are then measured for contacts or glasses.
When a patient has abnormal problems with vision tests, or visible abnormalities are seen in or on the eye, the optometrist may order extensive tests to determine what the problem is. Some patients may have very visible symptoms, such as those displayed by glaucoma. When prescribing medications, optometrists must be very careful, ethical and diligent. Many patients will try to abuse the good nature of a compassionate optometrist to obtain unnecessary prescriptions. It is important that optometrists always adhere to the utmost ethical standards, avoiding such situations. Abuse of prescription-writing will result in loss of a license and the ability to practice.
Training and Education Requirements
The first step to becoming an optometrist is to complete 3-4 years of study focusing on pre-med or pre-optometry studies in an accredited college or university; in order to increase chances of acceptance to graduate school, students should earn a Bachelor degree, instead of trying to finish it while enrolled in optometry school. After completing a preliminary preparatory program, students must then complete the Optometry Admissions Test, also called OAT, which will test students’ knowledge and comprehension of scientific and academic proficiency. Once this exam is completed and has been passed with a satisfactory score, students must apply to an optometry school, seeking a Doctoral degree. Optometry schools are competitive; in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, only 1 in 3 applications were accepted. Hands-on practice and laboratory procedures are also a requirement in this program. After completion and graduation, new optometrists are required to complete a 1-year residency program. Prospective students should be wary of any programs offered completely online; it is important to remember that hands-on practice is required to obtain a legitimate and accredited degree.
After earning a Doctor or Optometry degree, graduates must pass both a national and regional or state exam. These standardized exams are the determining factor for gaining a license. Every 1-3 years, optometrists must renew their licenses with their state’s licensing department and The National Board of Optometry. In order to keep a license active and eligible for renewal, a minimum number of related work hours must be completed, in addition to continuing education classes or seminars. Continuing education is usually provided at colleges, offered in seminars or provided on the job for those who are employed in larger offices or chains.
The American Optometric Association is the most widely-used and famous professional association for optometrists. Joining this association is possible by submission of an application, personal information and a required fee. Another popular association, dedicated to helping optometrists by providing helpful information, is The Opticians Association of America. This association also requires an application for membership. By joining a professional association, optometrists will not only gain valuable information, but they will also find that their membership will be beneficial on a resume or business card. Each state also has their own professional association for optometrists, providing a valuable network of professionals and state-specific relevant information. Membership dues and an application are required for state associations, but are less expensive.
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