Ophthalmologist vs Optometrist vs Optician: Understanding the 3 O’s of Eye Care

Ophthalmologists - Primary Eye Surgeons

Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist, and optician? Honestly, all three titles start with “op” and a quick google search on the topic can be somewhat confusing.

Known as the 3 O’s of eye care, there are distinct similarities and differences between these professions. In this article, our team of eye care professionals breaks down the exact difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist, and optician.

Note: These descriptions are true for ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians in the United States and may vary from country to country.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in the medical and surgical care of your eyes and visual system. Out of the 3 O’s of eye care, ophthalmologists have the highest level of training and the largest scope of practice.

In the video below, Dr. Omar Punjabi talks about what you need to know about ophthalmologists.

The education and job duties of an ophthalmologist

After medical school, ophthalmologists complete residency training and are required to obtain board certification from the American Board of Ophthalmology. In addition, many ophthalmologists choose to do a 1 – 2 year fellowship. When all is said and done, it takes about 12 – 14 years of education after high school to become an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors and primary eye surgeons.

Ophthalmologists have the benefit of practicing comprehensive eye care or zoning in on a sub-specialty. In fact, some ophthalmologists focus on one or more sub-specialties of the eye including cornea, glaucoma, retina, pediatrics, neurology, uveitis, plastic surgery, and cancer. Also, ophthalmologists are trained in all aspects of the human body and visual system.

As a result, it’s easiest to think of ophthalmologists as your primary eye surgeons!

For example, if you were having LASIK surgery, cataract surgery or a retinal detachment repair performed, you would see an ophthalmologist.

What is an optometrist?

Next, an optometrist is a doctor of optometry (OD) who specializes in the primary and medical care of your eyes and visual system. Out of the 3 O’s of eye care, optometrists have the second highest level of training and a growing scope of practice.

In the video below, Dr. Rachael Wruble talks about what you need to know about optometrists.

The education and job duties of an optometrist

In general, optometrists complete 4 years of undergrad and 4 years of optometry school. In addition, many optometrists do an optional 1 – 2 year residency or fellowship. Add it up and that’s a minimum of 8 – 10 years of education after high school.

Also, optometrists manage most diseases of the eye, prescribe glasses and contact lenses, evaluate how your eyes work together, and assist with visual impairments all so you can live your life to the fullest.

Optometrist are doctors of optometry and primary eye doctors.

Due to state law, the scope of medical care that can be provided by an optometrist varies in each state. With this in mind, optometrists are trained on virtually all aspects of the eye and visual system.

Overall, it’s easiest to think of optometrists as your primary eye doctors.

For example, if you had dry or irritated eyes or were looking to be fit with contact lenses, you could see an optometrist.

What is an optician?

Lastly, an optician is a skilled individual trained to help you select your eyeglass frames and lenses. Unlike ophthalmologists and optometrists, opticians are not eye doctors. Instead, opticians make sure all your lens options and measurements reflect what has been prescribed by your eye doctor!

In the video below, Jordan Almond talks about exactly what opticians do.

Did you know opticians are also able to sell contact lenses with a valid doctor’s prescription?

Also, while some opticians obtain their skills through on the job training, many states require their opticians to become licensed dispensing opticians (LDOs). In fact, LDOs are required to pass a series of exams based on specialized education or extensive experience.

Overall it’s easiest to think of opticians as your eyeglass specialists.

Optician helping patient select eyeglasses

For example, if you were looking to buy new, trendy frames or discuss lens options, you could see an optician.


Well, there you have it! You now know the difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist, and optician. Even more important, you’re well educated on who you can call on for all your eye care needs.

In the end, all 3 professionals have distinctly unique roles and are an important part of the eye care system!

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave them below!

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Omar Punjabi, MD is a retina specialist and vitreo-retinal surgeon at Charlotte Eye Ear Nose and Throat Associates (CEENTA) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He completed his fellowship training in retinal diseases and vitreo-retinal surgery at the prestigious Cole Eye Institute, Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Punjabi has published over 25 peer-reviewed articles and presented numerous scientific abstracts and text-book chapters. During fellowship he received the Best Fellow Teacher of the Year award, and was the recipient of the Heed Fellowship from the Heed Ophthalmic Foundation. He has won several academic awards and scholarships during his residency training at Northwestern University and during medical school. Prior to his residency training, he spent a year as a research fellow at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, FL and worked on the development of the spectral domain OCT. He has received several research awards including the Beem-Fisher Award in 2010, the Research Award from Northwestern University in 2010 and the National Eye Institute travel grant in 2006. Dr. Punjabi is an active member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Retina Specialists, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology and the Society of Heed Fellows. His areas of interest include medical and surgical diseases of the retina and vitreous, including retinal detachment, age-related macular degeneration, retinal vascular diseases, diabetic retinopathy and ocular trauma.