Clinical DOVS News Patient Education

Eye Care Providers: What’s the difference and who do I choose?

When scheduling an eye exam, it is important to make sure you are seeing the right type of provider to meet your eye care needs. Each team member plays an important role in providing eye care, but sometimes those roles can get confused. The major difference between the types of eye care providers is the level of training and expertise and what they are allowed to do for you to help maintain your eye health.

Many ophthalmologists and optometrists work together in the same offices, as a team. An ophthalmologist may refer you to an optometrist for fitting of contact lenses, fine tuning a glasses prescription, or for routine annual eye exams after a specific issue has been treated. An Optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist for complex eye or vision conditions needing advanced care or surgery.

Daniel Watson, MD, Comprehensive Ophthalmologist


Ophthalmologists are doctors of medicine (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO) who have specific training and experience diagnosing and treating eye and vision conditions.

Ophthalmologists complete 12 to 14 years of training and education including medical school and are licensed to practice medicine and surgery. This advanced training allows ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat a wider range of conditions than optometrists and opticians. Typical training includes a four-year college degree followed by at least eight years of additional medical and surgical training.

Ophthalmologists are qualified to provide comprehensive eye care including medical and surgical eye care. You should consider working with an ophthalmologist any time you have a serious eye problem that will require surgery or specialized treatment. Some ophthalmologists elect to have further training (fellowship) and specialized expertise in specific eye conditions.

Ophthalmology subspecialties


Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from vision testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of disease. An optometrist is not a medical doctor, but they do receive a doctor of optometry (OD) degree after completing 2 to 4 years of college-level education, followed by four years of optometry school. They are licensed to practice optometry, which primarily involves performing eye exams and vision tests, prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses, detecting certain eye abnormalities, and prescribing medications for certain eye diseases.


An orthoptist is a certified eye care provider focused on the evaluation and non-surgical treatment of vision disorders, eye movements, and eye alignment in children and adults. An orthoptist specializes in visual function assessment and neuromuscular anomalies of the eyes, with the supervision of ophthalmologists or optometrists.


Opticians can help you select and fit your prescription eyeglasses properly. They can advise you on frames and certain types of lenses and lens coatings.

They work from orders written by optometrists or ophthalmologists. But they don’t give eye exams or write prescriptions themselves. Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye conditions.

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