How to Become an

Optometrist

The complete career guide to be an Optometrist: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $115,750
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 27.1%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Dependable Daily Workload
    Career Attribute

Optometrists are physicians who specialize in treating vision disorders. They perform vision tests, diagnose the level of vision loss a patient is experiencing, and write prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses. Additionally, they diagnose issues like glaucoma by performing dilatation or other techniques.


What is an Optometrist?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in optometrist roles:

  • Conduct eye exams to determine the state of a patient’s vision or vision loss
  • Diagnose patients with vision disorders like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism
  • Provide patients with prescriptions for glasses and contacts by measuring a patient’s level of vision loss and the diameter of the patient’s irises
  • Use specialized equipment or dilatation techniques to evaluate patients for common eye diseases like glaucoma
  • Educate patients on how to care for vision to promote eye health and prevent vision loss

A Day in the Life

Optometrists are doctors who specialize in treating vision loss. From an early age, patients visit the optometrist to have their vision checked. The optometrist evaluates a patient using a variety of tools and techniques, such as having patients read letters or identify symbols on an eye testing chart, or by using specialized equipment. When vision loss is discovered, the optometrist diagnoses the patient with either nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, and forms a treatment plan to correct vision.

In cases of minor vision loss, the optometrist may recommend that the patient uses over the counter products like readers. In cases of more severe vision loss, the eye doctor prescribes vision correction devices like glasses and contacts to the patient. To do this, the optometrist must conduct a series of tests to determine exactly what level prescription to assign the patient, and he/she must also measure the diameter of a patient’s irises when prescribing contact lenses.

Optometrists also test patients for common eye diseases like glaucoma. They use specialized tools or dilatation techniques to view around and behind eyes to search for signs of trouble. They also educate patients on how to maintain and promote eye health, and how to prevent further vision loss. They may educate patients on the importance of not wearing contacts overnight, or they may recommend that patients quit smoking to decelerate vision loss.

Typical Work Schedule

As an optometrist, you are expected to work full-time following the regular working schedule of about 40 hours per week. You may have to work longer hours depending on the operating hours of the clinic or store that you are working for. However, it is very rare that you need to work overtime or during the weekends.

Projected Job Growth

There are around 41,000 optometrists working in the US according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The employment of optometrists is expected to increase by 4% from 2019 to 2029 which is about as fast as the average for all other occupations. Vision problems tend to occur more frequently as the population ages because older people become more susceptible to conditions that impair vision and therefore will require vision care. In addition, there has been recent increase in the number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and other diseases which has been linked to several eye conditions which may lead to loss of vision. Therefore, more optometrists will be required in order to monitor and treat patients with different chronic conditions related to diabetes and other diseases. Also, many insurance companies and nearly all health plans tend to cover medical eye care as well as covering preventive eye exams. However, the number of optometrists will be limited by the number of accredited optometry schools which will give licensed optometrists an edge and they should expect good job opportunities.

Typical Employers

Optometrists have multiple employers can work for different optometrists’ offices and care centers. Other available employers include various health and personal care centers as well as other physicians’ offices as a part of the healthcare team. Some optometrists prefer to work privately whether individually or with a partner, by establishing their own offices where they can work with more flexibility in different places.


How To Become an Optometrist

The first step in becoming an optometrist is earning a bachelor’s degree. Students commonly pursue undergraduate degrees in the sciences, but your major isn’t as important as the coursework you take as an undergraduate student. Courses in biology, physics, physiology, writing, math, and communications are important for preparing you for a graduate optometry program. Undergraduate students must also pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT)—a standardized test used by colleges to select new students.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to enroll in a graduate optometry program. Aspiring optometrists complete four years of study in a graduate program before earning a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. With an O.D. degree, students must then take the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam. Passing this written test allows optometrists to become licensed to perform optometry services in their state, though some states require continuing education throughout your career.

While an O.D. degree and successfully passing the necessary licensing examination is sufficient for finding work as an optometrist, some optometrists choose to complete one more year of education to specialize in a certain field of optometry. For example, additional residencies may be available for optometrists to specialize in treating children, treating seniors, or treating ocular disease.


Optometrist Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$77,310

Average

$115,750

High Range

---

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$37/hr

Average

$56/hr

High Range

---

How do Optometrist salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Optometrist's can make an average annual salary of $115,750, or $56 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $77,310 or $37 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #36 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally


Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming an Optometrist. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.


Highest Education Among Optometrists

  • 95.1%   Doctorate
  • 2.4%   Masters
  • 1.6%   Bachelors
  • 0.3%   Associates
  • 0%   College
  • 0.5%   High School
  • 0.1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

40,600

2024 Est. Jobs

51,600

Job Growth Rate

27.1%

Est. New Jobs

11,000

How does Optometrist job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 11,000 jobs for a total of 51,600 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 27.1% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #20 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally


What Companies Employ The Most Optometrists

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Offices of optometrists 19,800 6,200 6%
Self-employed workers 6,800 2,000 2%
Offices of physicians 6,100 1,400 1%

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