How to Become an Optometrist
Optometrist Careers & Degrees

If you’re interested the eye and have a strong interest in a career in medicine, then you might like to become an optometrist.

An optometrist diagnoses and treats diseases and disorders of the eye.

They also prescribe corrective glasses and contact lenses as a part of treatment.

A qualified optometrist is a doctor of optometry, sometimes shortened to OD.

This is a great qualification to have, as the population ages it’s expected that there will be an increase in demand for the services of optometrists.

Education Requirements to Become an Optometrist

If you’re a high school student and would like to become an optometrist, you should concentrate on getting good grades in all your subjects, especially math, biology, and the other sciences.

You’ll need to complete at least three year of pre-optometry education at an accredited college.

Most students complete an undergraduate bachelors degree.

After this you will be able to apply to optometry school.

Competition is high, and only one in every three applicants gains a spot.

Admittance is based on your college grade point average, as well as the optometry entrance exam.

For more information, visit Association of Schools and
Colleges of Optometry

It takes four years of study to graduate from optometry school.

Coursework is a combination of theory and practical experience.

After the four year program, students may elect to complete a one year residency which will grant them a specialization.

In all states, optometrists are required to be licensed.

This involves both a written and practical exam which must be completed before you are able to start practice.

Optometrist Job Description

When you become an optometrist you will work to help correct your patient’s vision.

this could involve diagnosing various diseases of the eye, and vision problems.

You might find a patient to be near or far sighted, color blind, or to be suffering from a problem like cataracts.

Often an optometrist will prescribe correct eyewear such as glasses or contact lenses.

They may also give a patient exercises to help strengthen the eye muscles.

An optometrist will also refer a patient on to another specialist, such as an ophthalmologist.

Some optometrists work in a particular specialty.

For instance, they may only work with elderly people, or those suffering from a particular condition.

Some will provide vision rehabilitation for those suffering from vision problems cause by a degenerative disease, or an accident.

While some optometrists work for private clinics or hospitals, many are also self-employed.

In these instances an optometrist must also plan and manage their own practice, including administration and bookkeeping.

Here are some of the duties of an optometrist:

  • Seeing patients
  • Conducting vision tests
  • Forming a diagnosis
  • Prescribing corrective eyewear
  • Treatment planning
  • Referring patients to specialists
  • Business administration

Optometrist Salary and Career Path

When you become an optometrist you will usually have your first job working in a hospital, or in the offices of another optometrist.

After a few years you may decide to open your own practice and become self-employed.

Many go on to run large practices which employ specialists.

Some optometrists open retail shops where they will both diagnose patients and also sell glasses and eyewear.

Most optometrists work business hours, there are a few that will offer after-hours consultations and emergency call-outs.

Optometrists work in hospitals, private consulting rooms, and sometimes in retail centers.

Some optometrists will move on to pursue teaching or research interests.

Others with further study may move into field like neurophysiology, physiological optics, public health, or other similar areas.

The median salary for an optometrist is $96,000 a year.

The middle 50% earn between $70,000 and $125,000 a year.

The median for those that are self-employed is much higher at $175,000 a year.

Job prospects are good, and there is growth predicted in this sector, as the population ages and demands increase.

Some similar roles to that of optometrist you might be interested in include:

  • Ophthalmologist
  • Medical doctor
  • Dentist
  • Chiropractor
  • Podiatrist

Optometrists help people see the world clearer.

If you’re looking for a challenging role in medicine with regular hours, like working with people, and want the potential for a high salary, then you might like to become an optometrist.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia- NA -
New Hampshire$129,850
New Jersey$122,190
New Mexico$96,660
New York$136,530
North Carolina$138,200
North Dakota$174,290
Rhode Island$109,910
South Carolina$124,910
South Dakota$100,610
West Virginia$143,760
Puerto Rico$61,960

The top earning state in the field is North Dakota, where the average salary is $174,290.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

North Dakota - $174,290
Vermont - $145,150
West Virginia - $143,760
Alaska - $143,540
Iowa - $140,450
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Optometrists, OCC Code 29-1041, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does an optometrist do?

An optometrist provides primary eye healthcare.

Optometrists perform eye exams and vision test to diagnose diseases, illnesses, and eye disorders

They may treat conditions such as astigmatism and nearsightedness and sometimes work in teams with ophthalmologists in order to care for their patients.

Optometrists can prescribe glasses and contact lenses and provide vision therapy; some states also allow optometrists to prescribe medication.

Optometrists may provide pre and post-operatory care for their patients.

Many optometrists own their practice and may work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ needs.

QuestionHow much does an optometrist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for optometrists was $111,790, as of May 2018.

Salaries vary based on many factors and some optometrists make less than $60,000 a year while others make more than $190,000.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become an optometrist?

Optometrists need a Doctor of Optometry degree, which can be earned after four years of optometry school.

Costs for optometry school can be anywhere between $15,000-$30,000 a year, depending on the school you choose.

If you want to apply for an optometry program you usually need at least 3 years of post-secondary education with courses in biology, chemistry, maths, physics, and English.

Many applicants also hold a bachelor’s degree with a science major.

Pre-med programs cost, on average, around $40,000 a year but costs vary widely based on the program and the college.

QuestionWhat is the demand for optometrists?

According to BLS, the overall employment of optometrists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028.

As the population ages, the demand for eye exams and treatments is expected to grow.

Optometrists will be needed to treat conditions that affect mostly elderly people, including cataracts, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy and to refer patients to ophthalmologists.

Choosing to complete a residency program may give you better job prospects.

QuestionHow long does it take to become an optometrist?

Optometrists need around 8-9 years of training beyond high school.

To be eligible for enrollment at an optometry school, you need to complete at least 3 years of post-secondary training.

After completing four years of optometry school and earning your Doctor of Optometry degree you can enroll in a 1-year residency program that will give you clinical training in the area in which you wish to specialize.

All states require optometrists to be licensed; optometry school graduates need to pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam in order to earn their license.

Earning a certification from the American Board of Optometry may give you better job prospects and may help prove your skills to your patients or future employers.

In order to become board certified you need to complete a residency period, a fellowship, or have several years of active clinical practice.

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