Optometry

What is Optometry?

Over the past several years, the eye care industry has continued to grow and has a promising future. With the aging population and the increased use of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets at close proximity, the eye care industry, specifically optometry, is projected to have a growth rate of about 10% by 2028, which is more than any other occupation according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. This section will differentiate the two main eye care professions, Optometry (primary care) and Ophthalmology (secondary/tertiary care), and offer helpful advice regarding the requirements and recommendations for entry into either professional program. Here we go!

Optometry vs. Opthamalogy

Optometrist

What do they do?

  • An optometrist is a primary eye care doctor who, according to allaboutvision.com, examines the eyes for both vision and health problems, correct refractive conditions by prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. Optometrists may also provide low vision services to people with visual impairments and vision therapy to aid in visual function and sometimes behavioral therapy.

Degree Received

  • Doctor of Optometry (OD)

Educational Requirement

  • Four years of undergraduate education usually in the sciences

  • Four years of optometry school at an accredited school

  • Three-part board exam, NBEO, required for licensure; independent of state board certifications

  • Optional: 1-year residency

Salary

  • As of May 2020, reported the median salary for an Optometrist in the United States to be approximately $125,878 depending on location and experience level.

Ophthalmologists

What do they do?

  • According to allaboutvision.com, an ophthalmologist is a “medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists undergo training to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications, and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses."

Degree Received

  • Medical Doctor (MD) or Osteopathic Doctor (DO)

Educational Requirement

  • Four years of undergraduate education usually in the sciences

  • Four years of medical school at an accredited school

  • Three-part board exam, USMLE, required for licensure; independent of state board certifications

  • Required: 1-year internship, and a minimum of 3 years in a hospital-based residency

Salary

  • As of May 2020, reported the median salary for a Physician- Ophthalmology in the United States to be approximately $295,431 depending on specialty, location, and experience level.

 

Tips for Prospective Students

 
  • Hopefully, early in your undergraduate career, you will know that you want to pursue a professional degree in healthcare. Honestly, the earlier the better so that you can assure that you touch all of the major areas that will help make you a competitive applicant. If you discover you want to go into a healthcare field later, that is okay too, but it may be wise to spend an additional year before applying to intentionally build your application. Other than the required coursework that each school will have posted to their websites, you want to make sure your application stands out with a plethora of diverse experiences.​

    • Academic Standing

      • As you probably already know, having a solid GPA is a strong component of most professional school applications. Work hard throughout your undergraduate career to perform well in your classes, especially your science courses. The science courses are often among the pre-requisites for optometry school applications. Do not be over critical of yourself in this area. If you are unsure if your GPA measures up, just contact the schools you are interested in and get their opinion and suggestions on what to do going forward.

    • OAT

      • “The OAT is an optometry admission test designed to provide optometry education programs with a means to assess program applicants’ potential for success. The OAT is comprised of multiple-choice test items presented in the English language. The test is developed according to established test specifications. The OAT consists of a battery of four tests on the following: Survey of the Natural Sciences, Physics, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning.”

      • TEST PREP: When preparing for the OAT, the materials I found most helpful was the Kaplan OAT Online Course and books. Other test prep offered include: OAT Destroyer, The Princeton Review OAT Prep, The OAT Guide, OAT prep, CrackOAT, etcetera.

      • Each school has different standards for the scores that they will accept on the OAT. The OAT is not a stand-alone component, meaning admissions committees looked for well-rounded students where the GPA and OAT are on a sliding scale. This means a higher OAT can aid admissions with a slightly lower GPA and vice-versa.

    • Shadowing Experience

      • Before making a firm decision on any profession, I encourage everyone to shadow, shadow, and shadow some more.

        • This will submerge you into the field and even some of the nitty-gritty things that you never considered when first considering the profession.

        • You will gain mentors and people who can write letters of recommendation for you, both of which are very critical.

        • Shadow different doctors in the field that represent different demographics, different types of practices (i.e. commercial, private practice, industry), different sub-specialties (i.e. vision therapy, primary care, low vision) and who serve different populations (i.e. children, geriatrics, socioeconomic differences).

        • Also, shadow other similar professions. For example, I shadowed ophthalmology at the same time I was working and shadowing in Optometry. This allowed me to understand the differences between the fields and solidify that optometry was what I wanted to do.

        • The more shadowing experience you have the better. The national application and most schools will have this listed. Aim to have a least three unique experiences with a minimum of 30 hours.

    • Volunteer Hours

      • Volunteer hours and experiences are very helpful for adding diversity to the application and illustrating a commitment to serving others. After all, healthcare is centered around selfless acts that focus on meeting the needs of others and improving their well-being. I suggest volunteering throughout undergrad with both independent and group experiences. In my opinion, volunteering at a specific site or with a specific non-profit group on multiple occasions shows dedication and commitment which are traits that are essential to success in optometry school.

    • Leadership Experience

      • As future doctors and leaders, valuable leadership experience is critical. Although, this is not something that is required it adds sustenance to your application. Try to hold leadership positions in the organizations that you are active in undergrad and even community organizations such as your church. If your school offers opportunities to attend leadership workshops or training, I encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities as well. Serving in various leadership positions and having a variety of experiences to add to your application will show your ability to problem solve, work with others, communicate effectively, and organize. All of which are key traits and skills that you will need in optometry school and as a future healthcare provider.

    • Research and Other Unique Experiences

      • Research experience is another component that is not required, but something that will set your application apart for other applicants. It is even better if you have experience with presenting research or your name on a publication. Of course, I understand that research is not something everyone has the opportunity to do and many do not have any interest in research. However, research experience shows your ability to think creatively and critically. It also demonstrates your ability to problem solve and manage time as well as show your commitment to be a life-long learner. All of which are traits and skills that optometrists and other healthcare providers must possess to lead a successful career. Other unique experiences include studying abroad, mission trips, pre-optometry conferences, or workshops etcetera. 

If you would like to know more about the application process visit www.optomcas.org and also look at the websites of the optometry schools you are interested in.

Once You Are Admitted

Gaining admission into optometry is a life-altering experience. You feel so much closer to achieving your goals and doing something you will love for the duration of your career. In this section, I will offer information about scholarships, financial aid, and a few things I wish I had known.

  • Scholarships and Financial Aid

    • Optometry school is an investment and can be expensive. It is important to manage your finances well and make wise decisions on how to pay for your education and keep costs down as much as possible.

    • Scholarships:

      • There are not a lot of national scholarships that will help cover professional school and of those that are available few if any, cover optometry. Scholarships are mostly offered through the different colleges and is something to discuss with the admissions office prior to accepting an offer for admission. Note that many scholarship opportunities from corporate companies like Wal-Mart, student organizations, and state-sponsored scholarships become available while in optometry school.

    • SREB Contract Seat:

      • For some states that do not have optometry schools, there may be an opportunity for students to qualify for a Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Regional Contract Program depending on the home state and the optometry school you decide to attend. This program allows students to pay in-state tuition at public institutions and reduced tuition at private institutions with a commitment to return to the home state to practice. The loan will be forgiven once the appropriate amount of time practicing in the home state is met.  You can find out more information and if your home state is on the list here.

    • Student Loans:

      • Many students pay for optometry school with student loans. This is why it can be helpful to minimize your loan usage in undergrad if possible. I will not go into detail about the different loan options because they will vary based on the students’ and parents’ income. Most schools offer sessions with financial aid either during a campus tour or on your interview day.

    • Private Loans:

      • These loans are typically the more expensive route to paying for school and should be a last resort. Once again, talk with financial aid at your prospective school and find out what is going to be the best option for you and how you can best keep down costs.

    • Work-Study:

      • This is a great way to make some money while in school and help keep living expenses down. Although you will not have much time at all to work due to the rigor of the coursework and time commitment, work-study positions on campus offer flexible work hours at reasonable pay. This is also something to discuss with the financial aid department to see if you qualify.

 

Things I Wish I Knew Going Into Optometry School

 

As a current third-year optometry student, looking back on years one and two I realize I have come a long way. I wish I would have known that optometry was a legislative profession. Optometrists along with other professions in many places have limited scope of practice due to state laws. I felt that with all of the time I would be spending learning and practicing my craft, I would be able to use everything I learned wherever I went to practice, but this is not the case. I also wish I knew more about all of the different types of optometry practices such as practices that focus on low vision, vision therapy, sports vision, etcetera. I had no idea that all of these areas were a part of the optometry field.

Another area that I wish I knew more about going into optometry school was the costs associated with board exams. I have found that it is very expensive to purchase board prep and to pay for the different exams. So, if you can plan ahead, put money aside for these things early on. Thankfully, my school did a good job of informing my peers and I about the rigor of the curriculum and high standards that we would be held up to, so this was not a surprise. We were even offered information on how to study using active learning techniques. We were informed that professional school would likely be the most difficult thing that we have ever done, but we would indeed make it through. I found this to be accurate. It is by far the most difficult thing that I have done, but also by far the most rewarding. Lastly, be sure to find a balance between school, family, fun, and self-care because it is essential to your well-being and success.

In closing, I hope that this submission exposed you to optometry as a potential career. I chose optometry because it would offer me the flexibility to have most of what I wanted in life, which is to serve others, have a loving family, attain financial stability, and make an impactful difference in my community. I encourage you to choose something that you will love and that will be rewarding in one way or another. Do not choose a career solely because of the dividends it will pay, but rather something that caters to your why and that allows you to be the very best version of yourself for you and those around you. Happiness in a career should ALWAYS be a priority. In the words of Marc Anthony, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”

Additional Resources

  • American Dental Association (ADA)

  • Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)

  • National Optometry Association (NOA)

  • National Optometry Student Association (NOSA)

  • OptmoCAS

Contributions by: Aaliyah Cole, OD Candidate

 
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