Optician VS Optometrist: What’s The Difference?

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Seeing with the eyes is one of the 5 senses most of us have and usually take for granted.

There are, however, many people who have troubles with their vision, either from birth, as they age, or from some accident.

To be able to see 20/20, most of these folks need the help of an eye specialist, but which one?

This article will talk about the difference between an optician and an optometrist, so read on!

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What is an Optician?

Opticians are specialized personnel that help patients choose the best eyewear for their needs.

The eyewear can be spectacles or contact lenses.

Some of them specialize in low vision.

These professionals cannot inspect, treat the eyes, nor prescribe eyewear prescriptions as they’re not proper “eye doctors.”

An optician is best described as a technician.

He’s supposed to read and interpret the prescription brought by the patient.

Optician Education and Certification

Opticians usually study for 2 years and obtain an Associates’ degree with just a rather small percentage trying to earn a higher degree.

Many states require opticians to earn a license or a certification, with just a few where such a credential is not needed.

Even if your area doesn’t require you to be certified to become an optician, it’s better to earn all possible certifications.

The most reputable credentials are from the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and from the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE).

Without the certificate from the NCLE, you won’t be allowed to work with contact lenses.

Each certification has 3 levels of expertise that we’ll share next.

ABO’ levels are:

  • ABOC: American Board of Opticianry Certification
  • ABO-AC: ABO Advanced Certification
  • ABOM: ABO Masters Certification

NCLE’s levels are:

  • NCLEC: National Contact Lens Certification
  • NCLE-AC: NCLE Advanced Certification
  • NCLEM: NCLE Masters Certification.

Opticians must keep their credentials current by taking additional classes throughout the renewal period.

Working Environment

Optometrists work in any medical setting, such as hospitals, clinics, private practices, and more.

Additionally, they can also open a practice with the appropriate licenses.

Their working hours will depend on where they’re employed.

Optician VS Optometrist: What's The Difference

What Is An Optometrist?

Optometrists are specialists that have the training to perform all the tasks an optician performs.

Additionally, optometrists can also inspect the eyes and prescribe the right eyewear, and even medicine for various eye problems.

An optometrist has at least 3 years of education where they graduated with a degree for doctor of optometry, and an additional 4 years spent in the optometry school.

Optometrist Education And Certification

Optometrists need to first earn a Bachelors’ degree and then move on to earn a Doctorate degree.

After earning these degrees, the individual must also enroll in the optometry school, for which certain classes might be needed in advance.

The optometry school has a duration of at least 4 years and it’s best to also find a residency with a minimum duration of 1 year after.

However, being accepted into the optometry school is difficult, and on top of it, is that there aren’t many such schools across the country.

To increase your chances of getting accepted into such a school, it’s best for you to try and shadow an optometrist to get a better feeling of what your day at work will be like.

Once you graduate, you’ll have to pass the exam offered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and obtain a license.

Depending on where you live, you might need additional credentials, so research this aspect as well.

The optometry license also must be renewed by attending a certain number of additional classes in any given renewal period.

Working Environment

The working environment of an optometrist is the same as that of an optician.

This means they can be seen working for the same employers as opticians.

This aspect is the main one these professionals have in common.

However, since they receive more education in the long run, optometrists have more freedom as well as more responsibilities.

They too can open and run an optometry practice if they obtain the corresponding license.

What’s The Difference Between An Optician And An Optometrist?

As you can see from the presentation above, there are more differences, not just one.


For example, the time spent learning is where the differences between the two occupations start.

The former usually study for up to 2 years, and rarely for more than that.

Optometrists have to study for close to 10 years before they can start practicing.

The duration of their studies will determine the types of credentials they get as well.

Providing Services

From their education derives their qualifications and what they’re allowed to do when a person enters their office.

Opticians can only give advice and fit the eyewear, along with completing other administrative tasks.

These professionals cannot inspect the eyes, whereas optometrists can inspect the eyes.

Optometrists can also perform all the duties performed by opticians.


Another difference is the salary each professional earns.

This derives from the time spent studying, the types of credentials earned, as well as the responsibilities they have on the job.

Opticians have an average salary of about $41,000 annually.

Optometrists, on the other hand, earn about 3 times as much at around $130,000 per year.

Both can earn more than this based on experience, location, where they work, and other factors.

In any case, rarely opticians can reach a six-figure salary.

For this, they would need to earn a doctorate degree in science and enter the research field instead.

Such a situation generally involves changing careers.

What Is An Ophthalmologist

To make things even more complicated, there’s a third type of eye doctor, called an ophthalmologist.

Ophthalmologists can do everything that an optometrist can do and more.

These professionals are also trained in performing eye surgery and practicing medicine.

For this, they can spend up to 13 years learning and getting trained for their job.

These professionals first graduate from a college program with a duration of 4 years and continue to study medicine for at least 8 years.

When To Seek An Ophthalmologist

Not everyone needs to see an ophthalmologist, especially if your vision is labeled as 20/20.

However, it appears to be a good idea to do it at least once before turning 40.

Here are some of the cases in which you actually need to be seen by this specialist:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Eye injury
  • Family history of eye disease
  • Misaligned eyes
  • Eye problems due to the thyroid gland, such as Graves disease

Of course, there are several other chronic problems that may require you to visit an ophthalmologist.

You could feel that your vision deteriorates even if you don’t know yourself to suffer from anything that could affect the health of your eyes.

If this is the case, it’s best to go be investigated by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

You might also need to see an ophthalmologist when you want to have certain plastic procedures around the eyes done.


We hope that after you got a closer look at both opticians and optometrists, as well as ophthalmologists, you have a better understanding of these professions.

We also hope that when you’ll have problems with your eyes, you’ll know better who to contact.

If on the other hand, you want to enter the healthcare industry in this field, now you’re a bit better prepared for the career that suits you the most.

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