Considering Optometry School?

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about optometry.

Adrienne Chan ICOWho are Doctors of Optometry?

“Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.” (American Optometric Association, 2009). Today the profession of optometry involves much more than just prescribing and fitting glasses and contact lenses. Doctors of Optometry are trained to evaluate any patient’s visual condition and to determine the best treatment for that condition.

What is the outlook for the profession of Optometry?

Optometrists are the primary vision care providers for the majority of Americans. Over half of the U.S. population wears glasses or contact lenses. Even people who may not require corrective eyewear need regular care to prevent, diagnose, and manage eye disease. As the population ages, the demand for optometric services will continue to increase. Demand is also expected to increase as state laws have expanded to give responsibilities for virtually all primary eye care services to optometrists. New frontiers in vision care include new lens materials and treatments, the expanding scope of lasers within optometric practices, improved diagnostic instrumentation, and the development of new medications with which to treat the human eye.

Is optometry a rewarding career?

Optometrists have the satisfaction of helping their patients care for the most highly valued human sense – sight. Doctors of Optometry are recognized as leaders in their communities. Most are self-employed, receive few emergency calls, and can establish a flexible working schedule, which allows them the luxury of combining a prestigious professional career with a very satisfying personal life.

In what settings do optometrists practice?

Some optometrists work in a general practice, and other optometrists work in a more specialized practice such as contact lenses, ocular disease, geriatrics, low vision services (for visually impaired patients), occupational vision (to protect and preserve workers’ vision and minimize eye strain), pediatrics, sports vision or vision therapy. Others may choose to enter optometric education and/or perform scientific research. They practice in rural communities, suburban areas, and large cities. Some practice alone, with a partner or partners, or with other health care professionals, while others choose a career in the military, public health, or other government service. Still others may practice in hospitals, clinics, teaching institutions, and community health centers, or they may choose to be employed by another optometrist, or in the ophthalmic industry.

What do I have to do to apply for admission to optometry school?

Since each optometry school may have slightly different admissions criteria, applicants should contact each school and/or college to which they are interested in applying. Most optometry schools and colleges require applicants to complete an application, take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and submit scores, provide letters of recommendation, participate in a personal interview, and demonstrate experience of exposure to the field of optometry. In order process applications more efficiently, schools and colleges of optometry are now utilizing OptomCAS (the Optometry Centralized Application Service.) Through this service, applicants may file one application and send it to multiple optometry programs.

>>Click here for a list of schools


What types of selection procedures are used to evaluate applicants?

Generally, colleges of optometry admit students who have demonstrated strong academic commitment and who exhibit the potential to excel in deductive reasoning, interpersonal communication, and empathy. Optometry schools are looking for “well-rounded” candidates who have achieved success not only in the classroom but also in other areas. Leadership ability, a disposition to serve others, and a work ethic characterized by dedication and persistence are just a few of the qualities that impress most admission committees.

What comprises the curriculum of optometry school?

Students must successfully complete a four-year accredited graduate level degree program at a school or college of optometry in order to earn a doctor of optometry degree. The sequence of course work varies from one program to another, but some general characteristics are shared by all. In the first and second year of the professional program, course work is concentrated in the basic health sciences (anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, pharmacology and public health), optics, and vision science. Students begin their clinical experience in a clinical simulation laboratory, with fellow classmates serving as patients, and then proceed to clinical training with “real” patients. This training includes taking thorough case histories, performing comprehensive examinations, learning diagnostic techniques, and discussing treatment services. In the third year, students spend part of their time in the classroom and part of their time in the clinic examining patients. Fourth year students continue their clinical training, which may include off-campus clinical externship rotations. Sites for rotation are available throughout the United States and abroad. Clinic settings include military facilities, veteran administration hospitals, public health service hospitals and various specialty and private practices. The lengths of the external rotations vary from eight to sixteen weeks. After successfully completing the fourth year, students graduate with an O.D. (Doctor of Optometry) degree.

How will I pay for optometry school?

As the overall costs of optometric education continue to increase, it is important that prospective optometry students begin to investigate potential financial aid sources as early as possible. As outside employment during optometry school is a limited option for the majority of students, and university sources of funds are also often limited, accepted applicants should contact their school’s financial aid office early to explore their options and understand the school’s financial aid policies and procedures. Accepted applicants should be aware of loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study, which provide the majority of aid to optometry students. Loans, which are the primary source of financial aid for optometry students, must be repaid after graduation. Scholarships and grants, which are merit or need-based, do not require the recipient to repay the award. Work-study gives students the opportunity to work part-time. In addition, there are state contract programs, which pay a portion of a student’s tuition, and U.S. Armed Forces’ scholarship programs, which require a service commitment following graduation.

What happens after I have a license?

Doctors of Optometry recognize that continued professional education is a life-long responsibility in order to maintain the full scope of optometric services for the benefit of the patient. All fifty states and the District of Columbia require Doctors of Optometry to take continuing education courses to be eligible for license renewal. Such educational programs are readily available throughout the country.

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