Careers in Optometry
What do Doctors of Optometry do?
Doctors of optometry (optometrists/optometric physicians) represent the largest eye care profession in the United States and provide most of the primary vision care. Dr. George Foster, Creek, Muskogee/Creek, Dean of Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry, says, “The scope of care has been expanding. Oklahoma optometrists care for most eye conditions for most people most of the time.”
Optometrists exam both the internal and external structures of the eye and do tests to evaluate their patients’ vision. Based on their findings, they diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases, and injuries of the visual system, the eye and associated structures. Optometrists treat clarity problems, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness; visual skill problems, such as the inability to move, align, fixate and focus the eyes; and eye problems and diseases, such as infections, corneal abrasions, glaucoma and ulcers. Depending on their patients’ problems, optometrists may prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, low vision aids, or vision therapy. In some cases they prescribe medication and perform certain surgical procedures.
Optometrists care for people before and after eye surgery, and they educate their patients about ways to prevent eye problems. For example, they encourage people to wear sunglasses in sunlight and to wear protective eye coverings in certain work settings. They also encourage parents to monitor their children’s visual development. Sometimes optometrists are the first health professionals to identify serious diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, which can be detected in the eye.
Although most optometrists provide general eye and vision care, some optometrists have specialized practices in such areas as pediatrics, geriatrics, contact lenses, low vision services for visually impaired patients, occupational vision, sports vision or vision therapy. Some optometrists educate optometry students on a full-time or part-time basis. Others do research.
Optometrists practice alone or with one or more partners or in health clinic group practices. Some practice on teams with other health professionals, for example, ophthalmologists, opticians, family physicians, nurses, and podiatrists. Optometrists work in urban, suburban and rural settings in private practices, clinics, hospitals, schools and colleges of optometry, the ophthalmic industry, the military, public health, the Veteran Administration and in Tribal and government service.
What opportunities are available?
Good vision is highly valued and needed. Lack of good vision can interfere with learning, work, social relationships and more. “Vision is one of God’s most precious gifts,” says Foster. “Optometrists are the first line of defense against blindness.”
Everyone needs regular eye care to prevent, detect, and manage eye disease. Most people 45 years of age or older require vision correction. Older Americans also tend to have more age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, hypertensive retinopathy and macular degeneration.
Many more optometrists are required to address the growing eye care needs of the U.S. population. New optometrists are also needed to replace the nearly one quarter of practicing optometrists who are approaching retirement age.
American Indians and Alaska Natives are underrepresented among optometric students and practicing clinicians. Many Native populations need more optometrists.
“The future of optometry is exciting,” Foster continues. “Optometry is a growth profession. We are able to provide needed services to humanity.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Winds of Change. The cover artist, Brent Greenwood, Chicakasaw/Ponca, lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.
The photographs for this and other articles about optometry were taken by Peter Henshaw.