Types of Eye Doctor Specialists

An eye doctor is a person who specializes in the examination, treatment, and care of the eyes. The term eye doctor can refer to either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.

Eye doctor discussing eye care issues
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An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor that specializes in both medical and surgical matters of the eyes and visual system, as well as the prevention of eye disease and injury. These eye doctors may prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses and also treat eye diseases with drugs, laser procedures, and complex eye surgery.

Ophthalmologists can be either doctor of medicine (MD) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO). An ophthalmologist training and professional education typically span about 12 to 14 years. This includes completing four years in undergraduate studies usually leading to a bachelor's degree, four years of medical or osteopathic school, a one-year internship in general medicine and three years of residency training and sometimes, one to two years in fellowship training. Common areas of specialty include anterior segment surgery, cornea and external disease, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, oculoplastics, pediatric ophthalmology, retina and vitreous, and uveitis and immunology.


An optometrist is an eye doctor who is professionally licensed to examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the eye and visual system. Optometrists are also primary eye care practitioners. These eye doctors, referred to as doctors of optometry (OD), prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Optometrists also diagnose vision problems and eye diseases, prescribe oral and topical medications to treat eye diseases, perform minor in-office procedures, and provide treatment before and after surgery. Their scope of practice varies by state.

An optometrist's training consists of eight to nine years of education and training. This includes completing four years of undergraduate studies usually leading to a bachelor's degree, four years of optometry school, and in some cases, a one to two-year residency training in a certain specialty. Common areas of specialty include family practice optometry, primary eye care, cornea and contact lenses, geriatric optometry, pediatric optometry, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, eye disease, refractive and ocular surgery, community health, and brain injury vision rehabilitation.

Opticians Are Not Eye Doctors

It is important to note another "O" profession often confused with ophthalmologists and optometrists. The third common profession in the eye care industry is the profession of the optician. Opticians can become certified in some cases by completing an apprenticeship under eye doctors and some will complete a two-year associate degree in opticianry. Opticians are not eye doctors but are professionals trained to grind and fabricate eyeglasses, dispense, adjust and repair eyeglasses. They assist patients in finding the best eyeglasses and in some cases, contact lenses to suit them. Although opticians are not eye doctors, it is important not to undermine their profession. Most eye doctors who run their own practices know very well how invaluable a highly qualified optician is in running their optical or eyeglass gallery and simply cannot function a day without them. Opticians are very good at troubleshooting optical problems and making changes that allow people to successfully adapt and wear their eyewear comfortably.

A Word From Verywell

When choosing an eye doctor, consider a candidate's overall qualifications, experience, services offered, and patient satisfaction. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists should be certified through an accredited healthcare institution and be licensed to practice through the respective state board of optometry or state medical board.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist and optician.

  2. American College of Surgery. Ophthalmology.

  3. National Conference of State Legislatures. Optometrist scope of practice.

  4. OpticianEDU.org. Optician careers.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.