Optometry Definition

In a neat little sentence, you could say that: Optometry is a regulated health care profession whose practitioners are responsible for examining the eyes in order to diagnose, treat, and/or prevent disorders of the visual system.

OK, boooring… right?


Sure, optometrists do all the typical things that you think they do. They get you to read letters on a chart, they ask you “1 or 2” a bunch of times until they find your prescription for glasses, they poke around your eyes to see if you have cataracts, or glaucoma, or macular degeneration, etc.

An Eye Chart
Optometrists use an eye chart, often computerized like this one, to assess one’s visual acuity.

But they also sit on a wealth of knowledge that could potentially prevent infants from developing a lazy eye, help a child with their learning deficiency, manage nearsightedness that seems to be out of control, reverse chronically dry & itchy eyes, reverse compensatory head tilts from eye-muscle imbalances, restore a person’s depth perception, or even save a life by detecting subtle signs that could mean big danger.

Slit Lamp Biomicroscope
A slit lamp biomicroscope is what optometrists use to observe the eyes under high magnification in order to assess eye health.

Who Are Optometrists?

Optometrists are primary eye care professionals. They are the doctors that you see for routine eye care as well the first doctors you see for emergency eye care.

Optometrists are trained in optometry schools. They are not medical doctors that have chosen to specialize in treating eyes (those would be ophthalmologists), but rather, they are doctors of the separate discipline of Optometry.

Optometry is also distinct (though in many ways related) to opticianry, which you can learn more about here.

What Do Optometrists Do?

Optometrists work out of various clinical settings. They can be found in independent eye care clinics, independent optical shops, chain optical stores, hospitals, laser surgery centers, etc.

A Phoropter inside an Eye Exam Room
A phoropter is what most optometrists use to measure glasses prescriptions.

Mainly, optometrists conduct eye exams. During an comprehensive eye exam, optometrist will:

  1. Gather information about your eyes, your health, your family, etc in order to understand your history and uncover potential needs & problems.
  2. Establish baseline measurement for your vision, eye movements, eye coordination, pupil reflex, visual field, etc.
  3. Measure your prescription for glasses.Patient Chair inside an Eye Exam Room
  4. Investigate the health of your eyes.
  5. Develop a treatment plan for any diagnosis discovered during the exam.
  6. Inform and educate patients about issues relevant to them.
  7. And more!

Optometrists also perform a slew of different types of appointments as well such as contact lens fitting, first-time contact lens teachings, follow ups for different kinds of eye conditions & diseases, laser surgery consultations & post-op follow ups, foreign body removal, vision therapy, etc.

Where Do Optometrists Work?

Optometrists can work in a variety of different settings. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Privately owned optometry clinics
  • Privately owned optical stores
  • Large optical chain stores
  • Ophthalmology (eye specialist/surgeon) clinics
  • Hosptials

How Do Optometrists Get Paid?

Generally speaking, optometrists are paid per patient. How much they get paid per patient depends on their professional fees and how much insurance companies/government bodies reimburse them for insured services.

An entrepreneurly-inclined optometrist can open his/her own practice and supplement income from eye exams with sales of glasses, contact lenses, eye care products, special testing, etc.

Some optometrists choose not to own a practice but instead work for an optometrist who does. In this case he/she would earn a negotiated percentage of exam exam fees as well as generated glasses sales.

Alternatively, it is possible for optometrists to find salaried positions where the optometrist’s pay does not depend on the volume of patients seen or number of glasses sold.

It is very unlikely for optometrists to be paid an hourly wage.

How Often To See An Optometrist?

The recommended frequency of eye exams varies based on jurisdiction.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends:Canadian Association of Optometrists

  • First eye exam between 6 and 9 months
  • At least one eye exam between the age of 2 and 5
  • Every year from ages 6 to 19
  • Every 2-3 years for people aged 20 to 39
  • Every 2 years for people age 40 to 64
  • Annually after age 65

The American Optometric Association recommends:American Optometric Association Logo

  • First eye exam between 6 and 12 months
  • At least one eye exam between the age of 3 and 5
  • Every year from ages 6 to 17
  • At least every 2 years for people aged 18 to 64
  • Annually after age 65

You’ve probably got a general sense for what optometry is now, but of course, the information on this page just barely scratches the surface. If you want to know more, then by all means drop your question in the comments below and I would be happy to answer if for you.

If you are interested in becoming an optometrist – specifically in Canada, read this helpful resource.



Leave a Reply