Also known as: Ophthalmic Optician.
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. Even though they are not physicians (like an ophthalmologist is), they 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.
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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.