The Profession of Optometry
Optometrists are the major providers of primary
vision care as independent, primary health care providers who examine,
diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the visual
system, the eye and associated structures as well as diagnose related
systemic conditions. They prescribe medications to treat eye diseases
and perform certain surgical procedures. Optometrists also do testing
to determine the patient's ability to focus and coordinate the eye,
judge depth perception, and see colors accurately. The scope of
optometry requires a knowledge of the therapeutic and rehabilitative
methods used to care for the problems of vision from infancy through
The profession of optometry originated following
a tremendous surge in demand for corrected vision with the advent
of the electric light around 1880. Early refractionists were located
in jewelry stores because of the materials and craftsmanship required
for the fabrication and repair of eye wear. For the profession to
become established, each state had to pass an optometry bill; the
first law regulating the practice of optometry was enacted in Minnesota
in 1901 and the last in 1924, when the District of Columbia bill
was signed by President Calvin Coolidge.
As primary health care professionals, optometrists frequently
determine the presence of systemic diseases of the human body, such as
diabetes, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis, that not only affect vision
but are associated with substantial patient morbitity. When an eye examination
reveals systemic disease, or the need for surgery, the optometrist will
frequently engage in co-management of the condition, in cooperation with
the appropriate health-care professional.
Optometry is the nation's third largest independent health-care
profession. Today there are approximately 30,000 licensed optometrists
with about 28,000 involved in direct patient care; nearly one-quarter
of these are reaching retirement age. The need for optometrists will be
further augmented by an increasing demand for optometric services. More
than 130 million persons in the United States currently wear some form
of eyewear. It is estimated that nearly one-half of the remainder of the
population has the need of vision care services.
The optometry curriculum is a four-year, post baccalaureate
professional-level program leading to the Doctor of Optometry, O.D., degree.
Structured like the other health professions of medicine and dentistry,
the first year is devoted to the didactic study of basic health sciences,
including optics, and, by the fourth year, the course of study is totally
clinical in nature.
The practice of optometry offers independence, flexibility,
and diversity, and optometrists may choose to practice in inner cities,
suburbs or rural areas. Opportunities exist in solo or group practices,
multidisciplinary practice, health maintenance organizations, clinical
or hospital settings, and government within the Public Health Service,
Department of Veterans Affairs and all branches of the military service.
Teaching and research offer added opportunities.