An optometrist is a medical professional concerned with the eyes and their physical structure, as well as overall vision, visual systems, and visual information processing. While the certification process varies internationally, optometrists are generally qualified to diagnose and treat diseases and disorders of the entire visual system, as well as to prescribe medications that will help a patient meet their treatment goals. They carry the title of Oculus Doctor (OD), and are afforded many of the same rights and privileges as other types of doctors.
Optometrists spend most of their time testing the vision systems of their patients. The qualities tested include the ability to focus and coordinate the eye, gauge depth perception, and accurately distinguish between colours. When an optometrist ascertains that a patient has an issue with an aspect of their vision, he or she will prescribe the appropriate treatment for the ailment, from corrective eyewear, to medication and surgery.
Take the example of a patient presented with glaucoma: Optometrists often may be the first medical professional to recognize this disease in their patients. Glaucoma is a disease of the optical nerve and it is often diagnosed after a battery of vision and pressure tests of the eye, all of which are aimed at identifying the telltale signs of nerve damage. There are a variety of treatments from which an optometrist will choose, based on the specific condition of the patient and nature of the glaucoma. This will range from medication, to drainage implants, to surgery. Often times for glaucoma, the best option for the patient will simply be medication, but the optometrist will always be prepared to take more drastic action if the disease and situation warrants, such as the aforementioned surgical and implant options.
In addition to concerning themselves with the vision systems of their patients, there are many clues to overall patient wellbeing as well as general health and nutrition factors that optometrists may notice over the course of a standard vision test. They often can detect systemic diseases based on evidence they find during these tests, providing a vital primary care service to their patients.
The professional requirements of optometry certification vary from country to country. The education process can require a four-year bachelor's degree followed by a four-year postgraduate course before a student gets to the examination.
The path to optometry in the United States is more time intensive than in many other countries. American students must complete a specific bachelor's degree program that includes a variety of health, science, and math credits. This bachelor's degree must be followed by a postgraduate optometry program at one of the over 20 certified schools. Finally, the newly-minted optometrist must pass a nationally administered examination before receiving his or her accreditation.
At the other end of the spectrum, an Argentinian student with a bachelor's degree must simply pass an examination before registering with the government. While this process still requires a four year college degree, the only postgraduate component is the national examination. Though there is a wide spectrum of requirements depending on the country, it is rare that a student may become a certified optometrist without a bachelor's degree, no matter the country in which he or she wishes to practice optometry.
Optometrists operate in a fast-paced professional environment. Most patient visits can last for no longer than 15 minutes, which is typically all the time required to run the battery of tests, so there is often a high volume of patients that come through an optometrist's doors. Many optometrists enjoy the number of different people they get to meet and interact with on any given day, so it helps to be a personable individual who enjoys the company of others.
Optometrists must also interact with government officials, other health care professionals, and the general community throughout their scope of practice. Optometry is considered a vital part of public health as many of the social and safety cues we all rely on require a healthy pair of eyes.