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The Three O's (Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist vs. Opticians)
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Understanding the scope of practice of eye care professionals, specifically ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians, is key in knowing what provider to approach for your eye care needs. Keeping this information in mind can save you time, money, and most importantly, sight. Here is a quick overview of the training and qualifications of these providers in Tennessee.


Ophthalmologists (also known as Eye M.D.) are physicians who have undergone extensive training to specialize in eye care. To become an ophthalmologist, one must graduate from college, attend four years of medical training to earn a Medical or Osteopathic doctorate (M.D. or D.O.), then undergo an additional four years of medical and ophthalmologic residency training. These highly qualified physicians are licensed to perform the full spectrum of eye care. This includes, but is not limited to refraction, prescribing medical treatments such as antibiotics, and performing surgical treatments such as cataract removal. Some physicians may choose to continue their education with a one or two-year fellowship to obtain more detailed training in a subspecialty of ophthalmology such as pediatrics or ophthalmic and plastic surgery. Subspecialists such as these are qualified care for the most complex patients in their areas of expertise. To summarize, the ophthalmologist is an eye doctor with a minimum of eight years of formal training after college and is able to treat eye diseases both medically and surgically.


Optometrists are healthcare providers who are required to attend at least three years in college then undergo four years of education in optometry to obtain a doctorate in optometry (O.D.). Services provided by optometrists center around refractive problems in the eye (e.g. prescribing glasses and contacts) as well as diagnosis and treatment of vision changes.  Some states, including Tennessee, also allow optometrists to prescribe certain oral medications and perform simple procedures such as injections to the external part of the eye. These providers are qualified to test and correct vision with glasses and contacts and to detect and manage a limited range of eye diseases. Importantly, these providers are not physicians (M.D. or D.O.) and therefore are not licensed to perform the vast majority surgical procedures.


Opticians are technicians that ensure that eyewear such as eyeglasses and contact lenses is designed, verified, and fitted appropriately. They are able to do this using prescriptions provided by ophthalmologists or optometrists, but they are not certified to diagnose eye diseases or write prescriptions themselves. Opticians are key in ensuring that all eyewear meets the needs of each client.

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