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.