Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist

Dr Smallcombe Difference between Optometrist & OphthalmologistOne of the questions I get asked most often is ‘what is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?’ And if you’ve ever been referred by an optometrist to see an ophthalmologist, you have likely wondered the same thing.

Due to the nature of eye conditions (the most serious conditions affect people over the age of 50), not many people go through the first half of their life having any need to see an ophthalmologist. Therefore you could be forgiven for not knowing the difference!

Chances are you will have a general understanding of what an optometrist does (we should all have had our eyes tested at some point!), however, ophthalmology is a lesser-known discipline of eye care that differs from optometry in a couple of key ways.

The Differences Explained…

Yes, both professions deal with the eye, but who’s qualified to do what, and how do you know who you need to see?

Generally speaking, ophthalmologists differ from optometrists in their training requirements, the focus of their practice, and the range of treatments they can offer.

What is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is an eye care professional who, outside of determining the need for prescription glasses or contact lenses, can also detect eye disease and determine visual function.

Training to be an optometrist in Australia comprises:

  • 5 year university degree
  • 1 year pre-registration experience

It is important to see an optometrist regularly throughout life, to maintain eye health and diagnose any eye conditions.

Optometrists will refer patients who require further assessment or treatment to an ophthalmologist.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor or ‘eye surgeon’ whose domain is the medical and surgical care of the eyes. Ophthalmologists are medical specialists, meaning they have undertaken additional training, just like a gastroenterologist, anaesthetist, or cardiologist.

It takes a minimum of 13 years of training to become an ophthalmologist. This requires:

  • 6-7 years at medical school
  • 2 years (minimum) work, usually in a hospital setting, after qualifying as a doctor
  • 5 years of specialty training and exam-taking set by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO).

They are able to provide the full spectrum of eye care including diagnosis of eye disease as well as providing treatments with medication, laser or complex microsurgery. You will usually be referred to an ophthalmologist if you have a serious eye condition or one that requires surgical treatment.

Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist In a Nutshell:

Optometrists, like ophthalmologists, are university-trained, however, their focus areas are different.

  • Your optometrist is your first port of call for your annual eye check, glasses, and day-to-day eye concerns.
  • You need a referral from your optometrist or GP to see an ophthalmologist if you have more serious eye issues.