Eye care professional

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An eye care professional is an individual who provides a service related to the eyes or vision. It is a general term that can refer to any healthcare worker involved in eye care, from one with a small amount of post-secondary training to practitioners with a doctoral level of education.

Types of eye care professionals

  • Ophthalmologist - A medical doctor who specializes in eye care. In the US, this often requires four years of college, four years of medical school, and four to six more years of residency, internship, and fellowship.
  • Optometrist - An optometric doctor trained to provide refractive correction and diagnose/treat common issues. In the US, the standard education is four years of college and four years at an accredited optometry school.
  • Ophthalmic medical practitioner - Similar to an optometrist (in the UK).
  • Oculist - Older term for either an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
  • Ocularist - Specialize in the fabrication and fitting of ocular prostheses for people who have lost eyes due to trauma or illness.
  • Optician - Specializes in the fabrication and fitting of spectacles. They may also be referred to as an Optical Dispenser. The prescription for the spectacles must be supplied by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
  • Orthoptist - Specializes in ocular motility, which is the movement of the eye controlled by the extraocular muscles.
  • Vision therapist - Works with patients that require therapy, such as low vision patients.
  • Ophthalmic medical personnel - A collective term for allied health personnel in ophthalmology. It is often used to refer to non-specialized personnel (unlike ocularists or opticians). The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology administers OMP certifications.

Optometrist vs. ophthalmologist

A common source of confusion is the distinction between optometrist and ophthalmologist. An optometrist is defined by the World Council of Optometry (a member of the World Health Organisation) as follows:

Optometry is a healthcare profession that is autonomous, educated, and regulated (licensed/registered), and optometrists are the primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology describes an ophthalmologist as "a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis, management, and surgery of ocular diseases and disorders."

Two important distinctions are evident in this definition. First, ophthalmologists are medical doctors (physicians), and have therefore completed medical school as would any other specialist physician, such as radiologist, orthopedist, or surgeon. Second, ophthalmologists are responsible for all aspects of eye care, including medical and surgical treatment or diseases and disorders. In the United States, optometry is not comprehensive in that surgical and medical involvement is very limited. However, this exact differentiation of tasks can vary by country and even state or province.



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