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The Difference Between Optometrist and Ophthalmologist

The Difference Between Optometrist and Ophthalmologist

Most people go to get their eyes checked once a year with their Optometrist, but they have no idea what an Ophthalmologist does. Better yet, most people don’t even know the difference between the two!


For the answer to what makes the two different, we’ve made a small list to help clear things up:



They Receive Different Schooling

While both Optometrists and Ophthalmologists are doctors, they aren’t the same type of doctors.


What does that mean?!


Well, Optometrists have a doctor of optometry degree (or an OD). Ophthalmologists have an Eye MD. This may sound like no big deal, but the difference between the two degrees is actually substantial.


For one, an MD takes several more years to complete, making their schooling more complete and in depth. While an OD will be in school for 3-4 years, and Ophthalmologist commits to double that with an average time in school of about 8 years!


Another thing that the MD is allowed to do that an OD can’t is prescribe certain medicines. While an OD can prescribe medications for diseases, only an MD can prescribe the controlled substance narcotics attributed to pain relief. If you are in excruciating eye pain and need something, like Vicodin, then the Ophthalmologist is where you’ll need to go.

They are in charge of different fields involving the eye.



They Do Different Things

While the OD is responsible for a lot of your needs, an Ophthalmologist is around when things aren’t going the way they should. For example, you’ll see an Optometrist most of your life if you have healthy eyes for things such as eye checkups, new prescription lenses. While you’re there, if they notice something seriously wrong with your eye, then you’ll be referred to an Ophthalmologist.


Here is where you are in the best hands possible, the hands of an eye surgeon. That’s right, the main difference between the two is that an Ophthalmologist is a licensed eye surgeon. But don’t worry, just because you are going here, that doesn’t mean that you are on your way to surgery.


That may happen in the future, and given how common cataract surgeries are, you’ll more than likely get to that point eventually, but for now, you’re just being sent to the highest authority on everything concerning the eye for an accurate diagnosis of your problem.



They Have Their Own Specialties

As mentioned previously, OD’s handle the basic eye needs such as prescriptions and diagnosis, but MD’s handle the more detailed cases. That is why it is important to remember the difference between the two and stick with them.

What we mean by this is, be sure to call the right person with your questions and schedule your appointments with the right doctor. You wouldn’t go to a mechanic to look at your computer, would you? The same should be said about scheduling an eye exam with an Ophthalmologist!


An MD is specialized in checking for serious ailments and correcting them. For your regular eye exams, they shouldn’t be involved at all, UNLESS they have specified that they need to do your eye exams themselves. That is a very unlikely event, though, as most things an OD would need to know about your eye will be put in your file for future eye exams.


We aren’t saying that an MD can’t do the job of an OD, far from it! What we are saying is that an OD does this job hundreds of times a week and thousands of times each year. Don’t you want them checking your eyes and having a surgeon focusing on keeping those same types of success numbers an OD has, but with surgeries?


That is why it is very important to remember who does what and call the right person for the job. Besides, an eye exam by an Ophthalmologist is more expensive than you should have to pay for an eye exam!


More Questions?

If you or a loved one has a serious eye condition that requires surgery by an Ophthalmologist, such as strabismus correction, give Dr. Sami a call at 714-289-2389 or click here to send us a message!