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The 4 O’s of Eye Care: ever wonder what the different titles are for

If you’ve been to the eye doctor, chances are you’ve met with several individuals at the visit that may or may not specialize in what brought you to their office.  Optometrists are confused for everything from an ophthalmologist or optician to an orthopedist or even an obstetrician.  If the word begins with “o” we think eyes, but who really are the O’s of the eye care world?

  1. Ophthalmologist:  A medical doctor that decided to specialize by completing a surgical residency for the eye.  Most ophthalmologists are further specialized after fellowship and additional training in to become refractive surgeons (LASIK/PRK), corneal specialists (front of eye), retinologists (back of eye), oculo-plastic surgeons, neuro-ophthalmologists (brain/eye surgeons), glaucoma specialists, or other sub-specialists of the eye.  If they are using their degree fully, they all perform surgery, and they are all very specialized in what they do.  If you get referred to see an eye surgeon, be prepared to hear news about whether or not s/he believes you’d benefit from surgery.
  2. Ophthalmic Technician:  A trained technician who does the initial workup for the doctor.  At an optometric office it might include pre-test equipment, at an ophthalmology practice this might be the person determining your glasses prescription or checking your contact lens prescription.  It is often the job of the technician to collect the data to be assessed by the doctor.
  3. Optician: The seller of glasses.  An optician may or may not have been trained in measurements associated with glasses and the means to adjust the medical device to fit the nose and ears while delivering the correct effective power from the lenses in relation to the eyes.  These are the individuals responsible for the execution of your glasses.  This person is the point of contact you have between the lab that designs and produces your lenses and the way you experience your vision with those lenses.
  4. Optometrist:  A medical eye care professional who evaluates and manages eye disease at any location that accepts medical insurance and performs the tests responsible for the creation and proper execution of your glasses, fits contact lenses, and improves visual function through various methods.  An optometrist may specialize with additional training in an area of eye care: vision therapy, pediatrics, low vision, specialty contact lenses, sports vision training or other such specialty.  These eye doctors differ from their surgical colleagues in that functional vision is emphasized and the refractive testing is rarely handed of to a technician to complete.  They don’t do surgery, but in some cases training, therapy, and vision shaping techniques used by a doctor of optometry are seen as safe alternatives to surgery.