How to Become an Optometrist

A career as an optometrist is a good choice for a person who is interested in science and healthcare and who likes to work with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Education and Licensing

To become an optometrist, you must pursue a four-year Doctor of Optometry degree from a school that is recognized by the American Optometric Association. Currently there are sixteen of these colleges in the U.S. and one in Puerto Rico. You can find a list of accredited schools on the American Optometric Association website. You will also have to pass exams from the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

All states require that optometrists are licensed and you will need to take and pass state tests to become an optometrist in that state.

It is very competitive to be accepted into a Doctor of Optometry program, so you must complete a college undergraduate degree, as well as complete and pass the Optometry Admissions Test to apply to Doctor of Optometry degree program.

Advice

There are pre-optometry programs available at some colleges, so you can begin or complete your college education in one of these programs. You are also a good candidate if you have an undergraduate degree in one of the sciences such as chemistry, biology or physiology. If you aren't studying the sciences, you can still complete your current undergraduate degree, but take additional courses in science or health, especially courses that have a laboratory science component. 

If you have not completed college but are in your third or fourth year, you might want to take the Optometry Admissions Test to see how well you would do, or take the test so you can submit your scores and so you can enter a program directly after graduation from your undergraduate degree.

Different Options

If you are not eligible or not accepted into a school of optometry, you can still explore the possibility of becoming an optician. An optician helps with the selection and fitting of prescription eye wear.

Some students in the doctor of optometry program will also take a post-doctoral year and specialize in general practice, pediatrics, vision therapy or even surgery, though specialization is not a requirement. Many optometrists work in general practice, which means they see all types of patients, from basic eye-health check-ups to diagnosing eye conditions such as glaucoma.

Like most doctors, optometrists will usually run their own medical offices or purchase a franchise from an established optometry chain. If you work on your own, you may work in a hospital or health care setting, or you may have your own small office with patient rooms and diagnostic equipment in each of these rooms. You may decide to have a larger office and work with an optician and other staff, possibly more than one optometrist, to manage your patient care and the sale of eye wear and contacts to your patients.

If you own your own office, even as a franchise, you will have to have an office manager to deal with bills, scheduling and account payments, so you will be responsible for selecting staff, management and, if necessary, firing staff.

The average salary for optometrists was approximately $90,000 per year, though this could vary based on the number of patients, hours and the nature of your practice.