Optometrist, Ophthalmologist or Optician: What’s the Difference?

ophthalmologist crossing arms When you’re looking for a quality eye care, it’s essential to find the correct professional. Your particular eye care need may be technical (like getting fitted for a new pair of eyeglasses), medical (such as having an eye infection diagnosed), or surgical (like having a cataract removed).

Many people use the terms “optician,” “optometrist” and “ophthalmologist” interchangeably, but each of these professions has specific educational requirements and skill sets.


An optician is a technician who fits patients for eyeglasses, contact lenses and other corrective devices. Although opticians are only required to hold a high school diploma, many opticians have earned an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. Even with specialized training, opticians are not permitted to give comprehensive eye exams or write prescriptions for corrective lenses.

Seek an optician’s expertise if you need:

  • Measurements for eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Advice on size, shape or color of eyeglass frames
  • Information about caring for your corrective lenses


An optometrist has earned a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) by completing a four-year undergraduate program and four years of graduate studies at a school of optometry.

Optometrists are eye doctors, but they are not medical doctors. They are licensed to perform eye exams, correct refractive errors and write prescriptions. Although optometrists are not licensed to perform surgery, some optometrists seek further education to treat various eye conditions. Each state has specific guidelines for the type of treatment and care that optometrists can provide.

Contact an optometrist for:

  • A comprehensive eye exam
  • A new prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • An appointment to discuss vision changes or eyesight problems
  • An eye medication, if your state allows


An ophthalmologist is a physician who specializes in eye care. Ophthalmologists are either medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathy (D.O.). This means they have completed an undergraduate degree, a medical degree and a four-year residency.

Ophthalmologists perform the same tasks as optometrists, but they are licensed to provide many other services as well.

See an ophthalmologist for procedures such as:

If you would like to find a board-certified ophthalmologist in your area, use our Find a Physician resource. Our physicians have the training and expertise to provide you with the treatment or therapy your vision requires. Whether you need a comprehensive eye exam or micro-incision glaucoma surgery, we are ready to meet your needs.

Related Articles:

Save Your Vision
Eye Health FAQs