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Ophthalmologist vs Optometrist

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist (‘eye doctor’ or ‘eye surgeon’) is a medical doctor, who has undertaken additional specialist training in the diagnosis and both medical and surgical management of disorders of the eye and visual systems. This additional training makes them a medical specialist just like a cardiologist, anaesthetist, gastroenterologist or gynaecologist.

An ophthalmologist in Australia and New Zealand is required to have undertaken a minimum of 12 years of training, comprising of:

  • 6-7 years at medical school, graduating with a degree in medicine.
  • 2 years (minimum) as a newly qualified doctor undertaking basic medical training.
  • 5 years of ophthalmic specialist training and successful completion of examinations set by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologist (RANZCO). This includes up to 12,000 hours of training and surgery.

What is an optometrist?

Training to be an optometrist in Australia and New Zealand comprises of:

  • 5-7 years at university leading to a degree in optometry. This includes the study of the visual system, refracting for glasses and contact lenses and also diagnosing common eye conditions
  • 1 year of pre-registration experience.

What does an ophthalmologist do?

An ophthalmologist diagnoses eye disorders, and manages them with medical and surgical treatment and regular monitoring. Ophthalmologists often lead an eye care team to ensure patients receive the most appropriate care. They consider you full medical status.

What does an optometrist do?

Optometrists examine eyes, give advice on visual problems, and prescribe and fit glasses or contact lenses. If eye disease is detected, an optometrist will usually refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for further management.

Why does the difference matter?

The difference in the breadth of training and clinical exposure means ophthalmologists have more comprehensive experience in detecting and managing eye disorders, as well as understanding a patients general medical wellbeing. Optometrists are trained in screening for serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, but they are not doctors.

If an optometrist detects changes in your vision that could be a sign of something serious they should refer you to an ophthalmologist. Similarly, if you have a history of eye disorders or notice a sudden change in your vision, you should ask your GP or optometrist for a referral to an ophthalmologist immediately.