World Council of Optometry

An optometrist is a primary eye care professional, institutionally educated and clinically trained to examine, diagnose and correct the refractive optical errors of the visual system by prescribing spectacles, contact lenses, low vision devices and vision therapy eye exercises to patients complaining of vision related problems.

An optometrist's skill is based on an intimate knowledge of the workings of the eye and visual system. A variety of complex techniques and instruments complement an understanding of the patient's needs. An optometric examination begins with the patient describing his or her problems. The optometrist then performs a series of tests, some of which are carried out routinely and others when indicated by the patient's case history. The consultation concludes with the optometrist's diagnosis of the patient's problem, explaining the diagnosis to the patient and deciding on appropriate treatment. Treatment can range from prescribing spectacles, contact lenses or orthoptics treatment required for squint, to simply giving advice on lighting or visual habits.

Most optometrists supply the patient with the items that are prescribed to assist vision, most commonly spectacles and contact lenses. The optometrist also ensures that the spectacles or contact lenses are in all ways suited to the patient.

An important part of an optometrist's work is the detection of eye disease. When an optometrist uncovers a visual complaint that requires medical or surgical treatment the patient is often referred to a general medical practitioner or an ophthalmologist.

Some optometrists develop special interests in a particular aspect of vision care. Specific areas include:

  • Contact lens practice
  • Clinical Optometry
  • Orthoptics
  • Low vision
  • Sports vision
  • Children's vision
  • Consulting in industry

Optometry is a rewarding career for those prepared to accept the responsibility of caring for people's vision. Most new graduates work initially as employees of optometrists in private practice, with large optical chains, in public clinics and occasionally with ophthalmologists but the ultimate goal of many graduates is to become a privately practicing optometrist.

Optometry graduates also have the opportunity to involve themselves in activities outside private practice such as vision research, teaching and administration and working for the various professional organizations.

Perhaps the most important personal quality required by an optometrist is a liking for people of all ages and a genuine desire to help their patients.


Another important personal attribute is a strong academic background, as the optometry courses are challenging, with places not easily gained.

Once in practice, optometrists also need a willingness to continue learning, not only in clinical knowledge, which helps in caring for patients, but also in practice management where business acumen is an asset.

There is considerable competition for places in Optometry courses, and places are largely determined by marks obtained in the final year of secondary school.

The optometry courses are based on sciences, including biology, physics and chemistry. Therefore, a thorough background in these subjects is essential for students entering the course. The course also covers subjects such as anatomy, physiology of vision, pharmacology and histology, and the final years are devoted to clinical instruction in the management of vision problems. Most of the final year is spent working under supervision in contact with patients.

Most optometrists are self-employed or work for other optometrists in private practice. Optometric practices are like those of doctors or dentists and are usually located in office-type premises in or near shopping areas.

Sometimes optometrists work outside their practices, for example visiting homes of bedridden or house-bound patients, acting as consultants to firms or factories at their premises, or working at healthcare institutions such as hospitals, community health centres or special clinics.

A small number of optometrists do not enter private practice after completing their course but continue their studies through research and teaching. These optometrists are scientists in vision and usually obtain higher degrees such as the Master’s Degree or Doctor of Optometry.

Optometrists have a responsibility to attend formal continuing education seminars after they have finished their university courses. This is essential to keep in touch with new developments in the profession.

Medical practitioners who specialize in the treatment of eye disease and surgery are known as ophthalmologists. They may also be called eye specialists, eye surgeons, eye doctors or oculists. Optometrists refer patients needing surgery or treatment of eye disease to ophthalmologists.

Spectacles are also made up by optical dispensers, sometimes known as spectacle makers. Optical dispensers complete a technical course which enables them to make up spectacles to an optometrist's or ophthalmologist's prescription. They are not permitted to examine eyes or to write prescriptions.