According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), “Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage disease, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye,, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.”
Doctors of Optometry prescribe medications, provide low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses, and perform certain surgical procedures. Often, the optometrist is the first to detect symptoms of eye disease including glaucoma and cataracts, as well as systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arteriosclerosis (and then refers to the appropriate physician). Other areas such as low vision rehabilitation, which provides sophisticated devices for individuals who formerly may have been classified as legally blind, and the sports vision are emerging areas of practice in the field. About three quarters of ODs are private optometric practitioners with about 40% of these in solo practices.
There are approximately 36,000 practicing optometrists across the U.S. and 20 accredited optometry schools. ODs receive four years of specialized professional education and clinical training. The first two years of optometry school focuses on lecture and lab in the basic health and visual sciences. The last two years are spent studying diagnostic and treatment techniques in clinical settings. One-year clinical residency programs are available in some optometric specialties including family practice, pediatric or geriatric optometry, vision training, low vision rehabilitation, contact lenses, and hospital-based and primary care optometry.
The downloadable Admission Requirements Handbook by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry has excellent information about the profession including what optometrist do, career options, demand, demographics of the profession, and salary information.