Eye Doctors: Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist vs Optician

Optometrists are doctors of optometry (ODs) who diagnose and treat vision problems and eye diseases. They also prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Optometrists complete four years of optometry school after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs or DOs) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and conditions. They also perform eye surgery. Ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school, followed by one year of internship and three years of residency in ophthalmology.

Opticians are trained to fit and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses. They do not diagnose or treat eye diseases. Opticians typically complete one- to two-year programs at vocational schools or community colleges.

Which type of eye doctor should you see?

If you need a routine eye exam or vision care, an optometrist is a good choice. Optometrists can also diagnose and treat common eye conditions, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and glaucoma.

If you have a more complex eye condition or need eye surgery, you will need to see an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are also trained to manage chronic eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.

Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians:

EducationDoctor of Optometry (OD)Medical Doctor (MD or DO)One- to two-year vocational program
TrainingFour years of optometry schoolFour years of medical school, one year of internship, and three years of residency in ophthalmology
ServicesComprehensive eye exams, diagnosis and treatment of common eye conditions, prescription of eyeglasses and contact lensesDiagnosis and treatment of all eye diseases and conditions, performance of eye surgeryFitting and dispensing of eyeglasses and contact lenses

When to see each type of eye doctor

  • Optometrist:
    • Routine eye exams
    • Vision correction
    • Diagnosis and treatment of common eye conditions
  • Ophthalmologist:
    • Complex eye conditions
    • Eye diseases
    • Eye surgery
    • Management of chronic eye diseases

If you are unsure which type of eye doctor to see, you can always start by talking to your primary care doctor. They can help you determine which type of specialist is right for you.