Optometrists held about 42,100 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of optometrists were as follows:
|Offices of optometrists||53%|
|Offices of physicians||16|
|Health and personal care stores||13|
Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ needs.
Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree program and obtain a license to practice in a particular state. O.D. programs take 4 years to complete, and most students have a bachelor’s degree before entering such a program.
Optometrists need an O.D. degree. In 2016, there were 20 accredited O.D. programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico.
Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education. Required courses include those in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math. Most students have a bachelor’s degree with a premedical or biological sciences emphasis before enrolling in an O.D. program.
Applicants to O.D. programs must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), a computerized exam that tests applicants in four subject areas: science, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning.
O.D. programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics, visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system.
After finishing an O.D. degree, some optometrists complete a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in the area in which they wish to specialize. Areas of specialization for residency programs include family practice, low vision rehabilitation, pediatric or geriatric optometry, and ocular disease, among others.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. degree from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam.
Some states require individuals to pass an additional clinical exam or an exam on laws relating to optometry. All states require optometrists to take continuing education classes and to renew their license periodically. The board of optometry in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.
Optometrists who wish to demonstrate an advanced level of knowledge may choose to become board certified by the American Board of Optometry.
Optometrists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Helping interest which might fit with a career as an optometrist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Optometrists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Decision-making skills. Optometrists must be able to evaluate the results of a variety of diagnostic tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.
Interpersonal skills. Because they spend much of their time examining patients, optometrists must be able to help their patients feel at ease.
Speaking skills. Optometrists must be able to clearly explain eyecare instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.
The median annual wage for optometrists was $115,250 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $194,100.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for optometrists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Offices of physicians||$122,800|
|Health and personal care stores||116,370|
|Offices of optometrists||110,930|
Most optometrists work full time. Some work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ needs.
Employment of optometrists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.
Because vision problems tend to occur more frequently later in life, an aging population will lead to demand for optometrists. As people age, they become more susceptible to conditions that impair vision, such as cataracts and macular degeneration, and will need vision care.
The number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has grown in recent years. Diabetes has been linked to increased rates of several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, a condition that affects the blood vessels in the eye and may lead to loss of vision. More optometrists will be needed to monitor, treat, and refer individuals with chronic conditions stemming from diabetes.
In addition, nearly all health plans cover medical eye care and many cover preventive eye exams. More optometrists will be needed to provide services to more patients.
Because the number of optometrists is limited by the number of accredited optometry schools, licensed optometrists should expect good job prospects. Like admission to professional degree programs in other fields, admission to optometry programs is highly competitive.
Students who choose to complete a residency program gain additional experience that may improve their job prospects. Board certification from the American Board of Optometry also may be viewed favorably by employers.
For more information about optometry, visit
For more information about optometrists, including a list of accredited optometric programs, visit
For information on specific admission requirements and sources of financial aid, contact the admissions officers of individual optometry schools.
For more information about the national board exam, visit
For more information about board certification, visit