Both an optometrist and ophthalmologist can provide a variety of eye care services. Although the most thought of service is prescribing glasses and contacts, both are qualified to diagnose a variety of eye diseases and disorders, such as glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachments, and macular degeneration. The presence of certain medical conditions can sometimes first be recognized by your optometrist or ophthalmologist. During an examination they are able to detect certain diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. Other tests can be done, which may also reveal tumors or strokes.
An optometrist is an eye doctor who has earned the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Optometrists examine eyes for BOTH vision and health problems, and correct refractive error (i.e. the need for glasses by prescribing eyeglasses and/or contact lenses. Some optometrists also provide low vision care to individuals who cannt get their vision correctable by conventional means. Some optometrists also provide vision therapy to individuals that can correct certain vision problems and/or improve visual skills.
Optometrists are also are licensed to prescribe medications to treat several eye problems and diseases. Optometrists also may participate in your pre- and post-operative care if you have eye surgery performed by an ophthalmologist. With a few exceptions, optometrists in the U.S. are not trained or licensed to perform eye surgery.
An optometrist generally must complete a four-year college degree program in the sciences, plus four years of post-graduate professional training in optometry school. In this regard, the educational requirements of an optometrist are similar to those of a dentist.
Like ophthalmologists, optometrists are required to fulfill continuing education requirements on an ongoing basis to maintain their licensure and stay current with the latest standards of eye care.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. Ophthalmologists generally complete four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, and a minimum of three years of hospital-based residency in ophthalmology.
So (to extend the analogy with dentistry), whereas the education of an optometrist is similar to that of a general dentist, the education and training of an ophthalmologist are more similar to that of an oral surgeon.