It is not unusual to hear people say they want to visit an optician at a clinic or hospital to check their eyes. There is a lot of confusion when referring to an optometrist as an optician, or an ophthalmologist as an optometrist, and vice versa. In some cases, people are not even sure of who they ought to see when it comes to their eye health. Even in the health sector, you would still find health professionals, clinicians, and academicians mixing up all three eye care professionals. I have seen this on referral notes and medical reports.
The eye is very complex, and studying to become an optometrist or ophthalmologist is as stringent as they come. Apart from eye health, which is of utmost importance, many systemic conditions can be indicated or diagnosed just by understanding how the eye works.
An optician is a technician or a technical practitioner, typically trained for a Diploma program of 2 years, although the curriculum is dependent on institute or country requirements. An optician handles the fixing, fitting, grinding and dispensing of lenses which include prescription lenses recommended for a patient/client by an eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist). Prescription lenses are usually for correction of refractive error and the testing/examination is typically carried out by an optometrist, then sent to an optician to fix and dispense the prescription lenses. An optician is not a doctor nor an eye doctor.
The optometrist is a trained primary health professional, for a degree program for a minimum of six (6) years with clinical exposure in learning in health sciences, anatomy, physiology, psychology, clinical pharmacology, and so on. Awarded a Doctor of Optometry degree after being inducted into the profession, and then proceeds for a twelve calendar month internship training as an intern/house officer in an accredited hospital or clinic, followed by the mandatory national youth service with a practising licence. Some optometrists get additional clinical training or complete a specialty fellowship after optometry school.
According to the World Health Organisation affiliated World Council of Optometry, “Optometry is a healthcare profession that is autonomous, educated, and regulated (licensed/registered), and optometrists are the primary healthcare practitioners of the eye and visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care, which includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.”
Optometrists are leaders in primary eye health care; they help patients take the first step toward healthier eyes and healthier bodies. If a disease or other conditions are detected, optometrists can help navigate patients to the right prevention plans or the next steps in official diagnosis and treatment. Referrals can also be made to medical doctors, neurologists, physiotherapists, psychologists, oncologists, ophthalmologists, and other specialists depending on patients’ needs.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye care. They study and train for at least 6 years to become medical doctors with an MBBS degree and spend an extra year training as an intern or house officer. They also attend the one year compulsory national service. To become an ophthalmologist, further rigorous studies and training for extra years is required. Ophthalmologists are eye surgeons and, in addition to other eye care services, also perform eye surgeries.
It is worthy of note that your first point of contact for any eye health concerns should be an optometrist. Optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians often work as a team to take care of you.