Taking care of your eyes means regular eye exams and treatment when necessary. When it comes time to make an appointment, however, do you know what type of eye doctor you need to see – an optometrist or ophthalmologist? These two eye practices confuse many people and some even erroneously use these terms interchangeably. While there are some similarities between these two types of eye care providers, there also are some very stark differences.
Similarities between Optometrist or Ophthalmologist
First, it’s important to note that an optometrist or ophthalmologist are both doctors who provide eye care services. Both doctors can evaluate your eyes and prescribe and fit contact lenses or eyeglasses. In addition, an optometrist or ophthalmologist can diagnosis various types of eye disease, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration and prescribe eye treatment medication as necessary.
Differences between Optometrist or Ophthalmologist
The major difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist is that an ophthalmologist is a licensed Medical Doctor (MD) and an Optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry (OD). An optometrist must complete an accredited undergraduate program, and continue on to earn their Doctor of Optometry degree. An ophthalmologist, on the other hand, must complete an accredited undergraduate program, as well as four years of medical school and a residency.
Optometrists and ophthalmologists also are regulated by different organizations in each province. In Ontario, optometrists are regulated by the College of Optometrists of Ontario, whereas ophthalmologists are regulated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
As a licensed MD, an ophthalmologist can perform eye surgery, whereas an optometrist cannot. When an optometrist diagnosis a patient with an eye disease or disorder that requires any type of eye surgery, even laser surgery, the optometrist must refer them to an ophthalmologist. In some cases, an optometrist may be able to partner with the ophthalmologist to provide some level of post-surgery eye care services for the patient.
Early and consistent eye care treatment is extremely important to maintain proper vision. It’s equally important to know the difference between an optometrist and ophthalmologist, so you know which eye care professional to schedule your next appointment with.
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