You might only think of an optometrist when it’s time to go in for your annual eye exam, but these physicians are responsible for more than just that. After years of specialized training, they can also detect more serious issues like hypertension, and even an array of autoimmune disorders.
We spoke with Dr. Karla Zadnik, president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry to find out more about the field.
What does an optometrist do?
Optometrists are the main providers of vision care. They’re responsible for performing eye exams and prescribing contact lenses and glasses to correct issues like nearsightedness and farsightedness, but there’s a lot more to the job than just that. “In the last 30 years, optometry’s scope of practice has expanded significantly so that they can actually diagnose and treat many diseases ranging anywhere from pink eye [conjunctivitis] all the way to more serious issues like glaucoma and diabetes,” says Zadnik.
What schooling do you need?
After completing a four-year doctor of optometry program, hopeful optometrists need to pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam to receive a license to practice. Those who are looking to specialize in a certain area can then go on to complete a voluntary one-year residency. “Let’s say that somebody gets out of school and they just loved working with children. They might do a pediatric vision residency for a year,” says Zadnik. ”Or maybe they really liked working with elderly patients who are visually impaired — those students might choose to do a one year residency in vision rehabilitation.”
What’s the typical salary?
The median annual salary for optometrists is
$ 117,580, according to the most recent reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid in the profession made $192,050 while the lowest-paid made $52,810.
The future for optometrists is very bright. For one, “there’s the aging baby boomers — and we know that eye problems occur more frequently as we age,” says Zadnik. There’s also been an increase in children with undetected eye problems, she continues. “Between both the aging population and children, there’s this ongoing and enormous uptick in the demand that requires optometrist services.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 27 percent employment rise between 2014 and 2024, during which 11,000 new jobs will open up.
This is a very attractive profession for those who want to maintain a work life balance, says Zadnik. Not only are the hours predictable, but you can also map out your own schedule. “If you’re in your own practice, and you don’t want to work on Wednesday afternoons, you can easily do that.”
And unlike most medical fields, you don’t have to worry about the stress of being constantly on call, says Zadnik. “The nature of the profession is not one that would require you to be getting up in the middle of the night, and going in to see a patient at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
In recent years, an optometrist’s job has become threatened by new technologies. “There’s been an increase in places advertising eye exams that can be done by sitting at your computer, in the privacy of your own home,” she explains.
“Optometry used to be sort of a cash-and-carry kind of healthcare profession — that is somebody would come in and pay for their eye exam — but now optometry is much more like the rest of healthcare in that they’re dealing with third-party payers.”