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What does an Optometrist do?

The public often think of optometrists as professionals who test eyes and prescribe spectacles. In fact, the role of the optometrist in clinical practice is much more extensive.

Refraction, the measurement of the refractive error of the eye, forms only a small part of an eye examination. There are also numerous opportunities to work in other settings outside clinical practice.

Should you choose optometry as a career, you can design it to be as diverse or as specialised as you like, combining different areas to match your interests.

What does a typical eye examination involve?

  • Detailed questioning of the patient to determine the nature of any visual problems reported by the patient, their medical history and visual needs
  • Quantification of their level of vision and then measurement of the refractive status of the eyes (prescription)
  • Examination of the way in which the two eyes work together (binocular vision) with the potential for prescribing exercises, special lenses or other forms of treatment
  • Examination of the health of the eyes from front to back, using a variety of techniques including a biomicroscope and an ophthalmoscope. An important role of optometrists is the detection of eye diseases, such as glaucoma (damage to the eye resulting from raised eye pressure) and macular degeneration, as well as certain systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which may cause changes at the back of the eye
  • The detection of abnormality may indicate a need for further specialist tests and referral to the patient's doctor and/or the hospital. Further tests may include measurement of the extent of vision (visual field), assessing the pressure inside the eye, photographing the front and/or back of the eyes and ocular imaging

Although certain tests are required within an eye examination, there is no 'standard eye examination' as the examination needs to be tailored for each individual patient.

An optometrist employs very different techniques to examine a 2-year old compared to an 80-year-old patient.

As well as eye examinations, a typical day in an average optometric practice is likely to include the fitting of contact lenses and perhaps the dispensing of spectacles.

Specialist areas

Many optometrists choose to practise a broad range of optometry but others specialise in areas such as:

  • children's vision
  • reading difficulties
  • sports vision
  • glaucoma shared care
  • refractive surgery co-management

Recently, a change in the law has allowed optometrists with further training to work in the area of therapeutics, prescribing drugs to manage certain ocular conditions.

Many of these specialist areas involve working closely with ophthalmology colleagues, sharing the care of the patient.