Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in pursuing an optometry career, follow a college preparatory schedule, with an emphasis on math and science. Because optometrists typically run their own businesses, a background in business and accounting is also helpful.

Postsecondary Training

Three years of college plus four years in a school or college of optometry is the minimum requirement for becoming an optometrist. The first three years of college are generally devoted to course work in mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry, as well as the other general education subjects studied by students in colleges of liberal arts and sciences.

In order to be accepted in optometry school, applicants must pass the Optometry Admission Test, which measures general academic ability and science comprehension. Optometry programs are devoted to laboratory, classroom, and clinical work and are accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education. There are 20 accredited schools in the United States (including Puerto Rico).

Upon completion of study, graduates receive the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. Some optometrists pursue further study leading to a master's degree or doctorate in physiological optics or other fields. Others complete a one-year residency program that focuses on family practice, pediatric or geriatric optometry, low vision care, and ocular disease, among others.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The American Board of Optometry provides voluntary certification to optometrists. Contact the board for more information.

Before individuals can practice as optometrists, they must secure a license in the state in which they wish to practice. Licensing applicants must have graduated from an accredited school or college of optometry and pass a written test administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and a separate clinical exam. Examinations generally cover the following subjects: ocular anatomy, ocular pathology (disease), optometric methods, theoretical optometry, psychological optics, physical and geometrical optics, physiological optics, physiology, and optometrical mechanics. In all states as well as the District of Columbia, optometrists must earn continuing education credits in optometry to renew their licenses.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

An optometrist must complete at least three years of postsecondary education, including courses in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and mathematics. In addition, students of optometry must complete four years at a college of optometry, combining course work—including physiology, biochemistry, optics, and visual sciences—with supervised clinical experience, leading to a doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. An additional residency in a specific area of practice, such as low vision rehabilitation, is optional.

Optometrists must have skills in applying scientific rules and methods to solve problems; skill in using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions or approaches to problems; and judgment and decision making skills to consider the relative costs and benefits of potential actions in order to choose the most appropriate one. Personality traits that are important in an optometrist include the confidence to ensure that their patients are at ease, and a speaking manner that enables patients to understand eye care instructions and the answers that the doctor gives to the patient's questions.

Prospective optometrists must be able to get along well with people, since growth of their practice often depends on customer referrals. Optometrists must also have mechanical aptitude and good vision and coordination. These characteristics are essential to the training required to become licensed.