Optometrists are a type of healthcare provider whose tasks include the performance of eye exams, diagnosing of vision conditions, and prescription of corrective therapy. While optometrists are commonly confused with ophthalmologists, the two are related but distinct. Both are healthcare professionals possessing an education from medical/graduate schools, but optometrists focus on diagnosing, examining, and treating your eyes, while an ophthalmologist goes beyond that to perform surgical and medical interventions to treat eye conditions. Another confused role in the care of your eyes is the optician, who helps fit vision-correcting devices such as eyeglasses and contact lenses. The following guide explores how to become an optometrist.

Importance of Optometrists

Eyesight is a vital tool, truly invaluable, for such everyday tasks as driving a car or simply walking through doorways. It is necessary for such pleasures as viewing films, taking in the glorious colors of a striking sunset, or partaking in such pastimes as drawing and painting. Optometrists help correct vision problems and can even catch early signs of such diseases as diabetes. They seek to assist patients in reaching their best vision possible on a daily basis. This job has positions opening up according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects a 4.3% employment growth for the role between the years 2019 and 2029.

Duties of an Optometrist

An optometrist examines and treats the eyes and vision of their patients. Their responsibilities include diagnosis of diseases related to the eyes, treat injuries to the eyes, and prescribe lenses for visual correction. Optometrists generally work in a private practice with such coworkers as optometry nurses and staff for administrative duties. 

The duties of an optometrist include performing detailed eye examinations, performance and interpretation of vision tests, diagnosing and treating vision issues, diagnosing and treating diseases of the eyes, prescribing corrective lenses and assisting patients in purchasing glasses or contact lenses, building and maintaining a working relationship with each patient, and responding to and addressing eye-related emergencies. If an optometrist notices non-ocular symptoms in a patient, a referral can be made to general care doctors if necessary.

Necessary Tests for Licensed Optometrists

The board certification optometry students face is divided into a trio of parts. First comes the exam that covers basic science in addition to ocular physiology. It takes place in the third year’s middle portion during optometry school. The second segment is a written exam that covers the treatment and diagnosis of ocular diseases. It takes place within the fourth year of school. The final segment of the board, a practical exam, evaluates you while you demonstrate your knowledge working with a patient.

Optometry as a Goal: Quick Overview

When your goal is to become an optometrist, there is a very brief means of summing up the process. First, pursue an education. Second, gain experience. Third, become licensed so you can practice. Fourth, consider certification options. And finally, fifth, apply for jobs in your desired type of practice. But this is a brief overview. It is worth examining the stages in closer detail.

Step 1: Your Undergraduate Degree

Most students who are admitted to Colleges or Schools of Optometry have undertaken a Bachelor’s degree among the sciences; these include chemistry, biology, and physics. This degree will be from an accredited university. Such degrees prepare students for the challenges of optometric study. Of course, each Optometry College has its own minimum prerequisite requirements of particular science courses. These requirements must be met in order to be considered as an applicant for admission. Each Optometry College will contain the necessities on its website.

Step 2: The OAT

The step following graduation with an undergraduate degree is to pass the OAT, or Optometry Admission Test. This is a standardized exam that you must pass to be accepted by an optometry program. It is administered with four components by the Association of Schools and College of Optometry. This exam determines your basic academic ability and understanding of knowledge of science. 

The four components are physics, natural sciences, quantitative reasoning, and reading comprehension. You are permitted to sit for this exam after completion of one year of undergraduate education. Despite this, most students wait to complete two or more years before sitting for this exam. While you are permitted to take this computerized test multiple times if necessary, there is a 90 day waiting period that is mandatory between attempts.

Step 3: Optometry School

Four years of studying make up the OD degree, or Doctor of Optometry, after completion of the Bachelor’s degree. This program places a focus on the function, disorders, and structure of the visual system and the eyes in particular. An emphasis is placed on clinical patient care. Involved courses include optics, pharmacology, vision science, human anatomy, human physiology, ocular and general pathology, and vision science. Among the most important courses are those for the diagnosis, management, and treatment of all manner of vision disorders and eye diseases. 

Extensive clinical training goes into becoming a Doctor of Optometry, exploring all aspects of vision care and care of the eyes. Many ODs make the decision to complete further residencies in eye care’s specialized fields. The goal of acceptance into optometry school is a competitive one. Admissions are more likely to go to students with high OAT scores, high GPAs, and a strong background in chemistry, math, and physics.

In typical optometry schools, the initial two years involve basic science, such as neuroscience, histology gross anatomy, and biochemistry. Then, in years three and four, students will complete clinical rotations. These go through optometry school facilities to working with practicing optometrists. In this fashion, students get to have supervised hands-on experience with real patients.

Step 4: Choosing an Optometry School

Before facing the challenges of Optometry school, you have to make the correct choice to find a place that will help you reach your goals. As of 2015, the United States boasted 23 accredited optometry schools. Consider, when examining the potential options, the school’s admission requirements, curriculums and program structures, the types of training available as well as clinical education opportunities, average class size and the size of the university in general, its geographic location, the campus setting and its facilities, licensure pass rates, graduate employment rates, degrees awarded, student demographics, and opportunities for internships and extracurricular activities.

Step 5: Considering Paying for Your Optometry Education

As with the majority of doctorate education programs, optometry school is a significant investment that does not come cheap. Tuition and fees can range from $70,000 to over $220,000 over a four-year span. For this reason, many students begin planning and saving as early as possible while researching various scholarship programs. Another consideration is whether loan forgiveness and repayment programs are an option.

Step 6: Complete Your Residency and Gain Experience

While you need not complete a one-year residency to become an optometrist, it can offer valuable training and experience. You gain this clinical experience under a licensed optometrist’s supervision. Afterward, or after the culmination of your education at a college of optometry, gain further experience working for a practice. If no job positions are open, consider volunteering or job shadowing. This gives an up-close idea of an optometrist’s duties as you observe patient care and assist practitioners.

Step 7: Get Licensed to Practice

Upon earning your O.D., you face the requirement of passing all of the sections of a four-part test, the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam. All optometry professionals must pass these four parts of the exam to practice in the United States. Some states may require further clinical exams or exams on medical ethics. Your license must be renewed regularly as your state requires. Continued education is many times a requirement for keeping your license renewed and up-to-date.

Step 8: Consider Certifications

Finally, to improve your prospects for employment as you go through the stages of how to become an optometrist, you may choose to prove your commitment in the pursuit of advanced optometry knowledge by seeking certifications from the ABO, or the American Board of Optometry. This process includes taking an exam which is offered two times a year and, of course, passing it.

Optometrist’s Skills

While the required technical skills are covered in an optometrist’s degree, you can develop a number of other skills that will prove useful in your future career. The first is listening skills. Listen actively and carefully to your patients while asking questions, consulting with nurses, and consulting the family of the patient. Attention to detail in listening skills helps an optometrist to diagnose and accurately and effectively treat patients. The second type of skill is communication. You need to be able to explain your diagnosis and treatment plans efficiently and clearly. Ensure that all you have to say is accurate while being easy to understand. You also need communication with your coworkers and administrative team. 

A third useful skill is critical thinking. Along with problem-solving, critical thinking helps you to solve the problems patients bring to you. You need to be capable of examining the symptoms, listening to complaints or problematic issues, and make a decision on a course of action to follow. Being able to think outside of the box and then follow a methodical plan will gain you success as an optometrist. Finally, you need interpersonal skills. These will help you interpret the nonverbal cues of your patients as well as assisting you in convincing patients to closely follow your plan for treatment. If you can build your patient’s trust by establishing a positive and professional relationship, the patient is more likely to heed your judgment.

Picking a Specialization

If you have a particular area of interest in the field of optometry, you can undergo optional residencies in that area for further clinical training. When you are looking for how to become an optometrist specialist, among the most common options include geriatric optometry, ocular disease, and pediatric optometry. Others include sports vision, neuro-optometry, low vision therapy, and behavioral optometry, as well as education and research. 

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