Career as a Optometrist

The Path The Ladder

How to Advance as an Optometrist

The field of optometry has advanced aeons -- and the time between advancements has shrunk -- since spectacles were invented in Italy in the 13th century and Benjamin Franklin invented the split-bifocal lens in the 18th.

This is a fact for the modern-day optometrist too. What was taught in the fourth year of your O.D. program may now be obsolete. So that's the real first step of career advancement overall: Never stop learning.

Let's review some ValuePenguin research as well as the input of experienced professionals to see how else optometrists can push themselves -- and their field -- forward.

When it comes to "related," all is relative. In fact, the careers most connected to that of optometrist can be wildly different in terms of the education required, salary earned and common work activities. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are somewhat similar jobs to keep in mind.

JobDegreeMedian Salary (2014)Job Growth (2014-2024)
ChiropractorsDoctoral or professional degree$64,44017%
DentistsDoctoral or professional degree$158,31018%
Opticians, dispensingHigh school diploma or equivalent$34,84024%
Physicians and surgeonsDoctoral or professional degree$187,20014%
PodiatristsDoctoral or professional degree$119,34014%
VeterinariansDoctoral or professional degree$88,4909%

Career Comparison: Optometrist versus ophthalmologist and dispensing optician

Optometrists are often confused with ophthalmologists and dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and treat eye diseases. Like optometrists, they perform eye exams and prescribe glasses and contact lenses. A dispensing optician fits and adjusts eyeglasses and may fill (but not write) contact lens prescriptions.

Three Steps to Advance

  • 1. Continue your education.

    All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to periodically renew an optometry license. Each state’s board of optometry offers information on its specific licensing requirements, number and type of CE credit hours and required courses, and length of time for meeting CE requirements.

    CE courses allow you to keep up with the newest technology, the latest discoveries in medicine and improvements in practice settings that will help your provide your patients with the best service possible.

    CE courses are offered by state and local optometric associations, commercial companies and others.

  • 2. A post-graduate residency program.

    Although a residency is not required for optometry, it’s a good choice for those interested in advanced clinical training in family practice, pediatric or geriatric optometry, ocular disease, primary eye care, and more. Optometric residency programs typically run for a full year, from July 1 to June 30, and provide a stipend that varies from school to school. A few programs offer training without compensation. The Optometry Residency Match (ORMatch) offers an easy way to apply for residency positions at various schools.

    "And keep up with latest trends within our profession but also with trends in ophthalmology," said Nicholas Xanthos, OD. "Optometrists are regularly referring their patients for surgical procedures. It's important for the optometrist to understand latest trends because although we do not perform surgery, we are typically the first to educate patients on their surgical options."

  • 3. Networking.

    Networking is a tried and true way to advance -- in any profession. As an optometrist, you’ll want to join online member discussion forums -- Optometry Forums is one -- in order to network with colleagues, share expertise and get feedback on tricky questions. Attending optometry conferences, both local and national, is another great opportunity to meet and network with peers.

    "Doctors also get together in smaller 'study groups,'" Alan Glazier, OD, FAAO said. "This all still goes on today, plus we have the benefit of social media networking in communities like optometry’s largest and most engaged online community, ODs on Facebook. This is the major way the social conversation in optometry happens. Also, become a contributor to your state and national legislative efforts, because as your profession advances, so will your career."

Poll: What Separates a Great Optometrist from an Average One?

Just as no two optometrists are identical, no two optometrists are of the same caliber. What, then, is the difference between a great one and a so-so peer? Of course, there is no single correct answer. Here are six.

Alan Glazier, OD, FAAO (New England College of Optometry,1993): "Two things separate a great optometrist from an average one. The first is an intense enjoyment, hence desire to care for and improve the vision and eye health of others; and the second is someone who pays great attention to detail and has keen observational abilities. Both of these are critical skills in successful management of an eye care patient."

Kathleen E. Goff, OD, FAAO (University of Houston College of Optometry, 1978): "The desire to constantly educate yourself and keep up with current changes in optometry. The profession has changed greatly in my 38 years of practice and if one stays stagnate with knowledge, then you can't help patients with all their eye conditions. Don't be afraid to reach out to colleagues across the country and to other health professionals to learn as much as possible."

Nicholas Xanthos, OD (Pennsylvania College of Optometry Program, 2000): "One that can provide many disciplines offered within our profession, including specialty contact lenses, low-vision services and co-management of post-surgery patients. Also, an optometrist who keeps up with the latest trends in both optometry and ophthalmology and incorporates this into patient care distinguishes himself or herself from others."

Donald Matsumoto, OD, FAAO (University of California-Berkeley School of Optometry, 1980): "I believe it is the level of care the doctor has for his/her patient. Everything you do for a patient matters. Part of the mission statement for my office is, 'We treat you with the utmost care and respect, just as we would want to be treated ourselves.'"

Michael Veliky, OD (New England College of Optometry, 1992): "The separation, I believe, comes with the ability to be a good listener. Patients come to you because they have a problem. If you do the best exam in the world, and find risk factors for several potential future problems but don't solve the problem that they came for, that is a missed opportunity. Help the patient with the problem at hand first and foremost, then educate them about potential other issues, and you'll keep a patient for life."

Todd Gershenow, OD (New England College of Optometry): "A great optometrist is one who takes the time to listen to their patients and takes the time to educate them on how and why they need to take care of their eyes. They understand that their job as an optometrist is to not just sell them a product or service but to find out how they can help their patients find the right solutions that can help improve the quality of their lives."**

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