Optician vs Optometrist Differences & Similarities

Many students and professionals today are interested in the optometrist and optician professions. But it is important to have a thorough understanding of what these two related career fields are, job duties, salaries, and the educational paths required. Continue reading to learn more.

What Is an Optometrist?

An optometrist is a vision healthcare professional who provides primary vision care services that range from vision testing and correction to treatment and management of changes in vision.

An optometrist is not an MD but is still a highly educated vision care professional. The optometrist must receive a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree after finishing four years of optometry school, which normally is preceded by a four year bachelor’s degree in a science-related field.

Optometrists are licensed by their state to practice optometry, which mostly involves doing eye examinations and vision tests; prescribing and giving out corrective lenses; detecting many eye abnormalities; and prescribing some drugs for eye diseases.

Other common duties for optometrists include:

  • Diagnosing common vision problems including farsightedness and nearsightedness, and glaucoma
  • Write new prescriptions for all types of visual aids and prescribe medications if allowed by law
  • Offer treatments for some vision problems, such as vision therapy or low-vision rehab
  • Offer pre- and post-operative care for clients who have had eye surgery. You may, for example, examine the eyes of the patient in the days after surgery
  • Evaluate each patient for any other conditions or diseases that can affect eye health, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Refer patients if needed to other health care professionals
  • Encourage good eye health by providing health advice to patients

What Is an Optician?

An optician is a technician who has been trained to design, verify and fit contact lens and eyeglass prescriptions to correct the sight of patients. They follow the prescriptions that are provided by either the optometrist or ophthalmologist.

However, they do not conduct vision tests or write prescriptions to correct vision. Opticians are also not trained or licensed to treat any type of eye disease.

Opticians typically have a one-year certificate or a two-year associate’s degree education in opticians.

The most common duties of opticians, who also are referred to as dispensing opticians, include:

  • Receive and review prescriptions for either eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Measure the eyes and face of a patient, including the distance from the center of one pupil to the other. This is very important to ensure the proper fit of eyeglasses
  • Assist patients to select appropriate eyeglass frames and lenses. Help them to choose the right glasses for work use or various sports, as well as any tints or anti-reflective coatings
  • Write up work orders for ophthalmic lab technicians, and provide them with all information needed to create the lenses
  • Adjust new glasses to ensure a proper fit
  • Provide education to each customer about their new glasses or contact lenses

How to Become an Optometrist + Job Demand and Salary Outlook

Optometrists are required to complete their O.D. degree and obtain a license to practice in their state. A full-time O.D. program will take four years to finish, and the vast majority of students possess a bachelor’s degree in pre-med or the biological sciences before commencing with the advanced degree.

If you do not have a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field, you will need to complete extensive prerequisites in fields such biology, zoology, chemistry, physics and mathematics.

All applicants to optometry school must earn a satisfactory score on the Optometry Admission Test or OAT. This is a computerized test that gauges applicants’ skills in science, reading, physics and quantitative reasoning.

Most O.D. programs take four full years to complete. This rigorous program is a combination of didactic learning (in class) and supervised clinical work in the field. Required coursework includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Optics
  • Visual science
  • Diagnosis and treatment of major eye diseases

After completing the O.D. degree, many optometrists do a one-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in whatever area in which they want to specialize. Some of the most common specializations in optometry include:

  • Family practice
  • Low vision rehabilitation
  • Geriatric or pediatric optometry
  • Ocular diseases

Following your education, you are required to earn your license for your state of practice. The graduate must hold an O.D. degree and also have to complete satisfactorily all portions of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry examination.

Some states may require the student to all pass another clinical examination on state laws related to the field. All states further require you to take continuing education classes every few years and renew your license.

For those who wish to demonstrate the highest level of skill in optometry, you may become certified by the American Board of Optometry. Possessing this certification will, enhance your marketability and will lead to a higher salary.

The job outlook for optometrists is outstanding: 27% increase in job demand by 2024, with a median salary of $106,140.

How to Become an Optician + Job Demand and Salary Outlook

Opticians must possess at least a high school degree or a GED. Some workers will receive solely on the job training, but it is more common today to enter the field with a two-year associate’s degree, or a one-year certificate from a community college or vocational school. Approximately 50% of states require licensure. As of 2015, there were 22 accredited programs in this field in 14 states.

The education programs to become an optician include both classroom and clinical work. Common classes are in eye physiology, optics, mathematics and business management.

Students also learn in their clinical work about optical mathematics, optical physics and how to use precision measuring instruments.

After completing your degree or certificate program, you may be required to earn your license in your state. Some states have an optician’s licensing board where you can learn more about your state’s requirements.

Some workers may decide to earn their certification in either eyeglass dispensing, contact lens dispensing, or both. Certification requires you to pass examinations that are administered by the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners.

Job growth for opticians is excellent, with 24% more jobs expected by 2024. This is much faster than average.

In terms of salary, the median pay is $35,530 per year, with the top 10% earning in excess of $57,100 per year.


Both the optician and optometrist occupations offer substantial career growth and opportunity in the US with its aging population and greater need for vision care services.


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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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