As the windows to the soul, our eyes are an aspect of our health that should be treated delicately and prudently. If you’re interested in optometry, you’ll need to become an expert not only in visual impairments but also in identifying other medical issues. It is a profession that requires a deep knowledge and a range of specific skills.
An optometrist is a healthcare specialist who is trained to examine the eye and diagnose and treat visual disorders. Not to be confused with an ophthalmologist, a type of doctor who specialises in eye surgeries, optometry is a primary health service as opposed to a medical profession. It is a respected vocation that offers advanced opportunities for the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the optometry job market is expected to grow by 4% in the next decade.
People from all walks of life can become optometrists and dedicate themselves to caring for the vision and eye health of their patients. Whether you’re just leaving school or making a change in your career, this step-by-step guide will tell you exactly how to become an optometrist.
1. Research the profession
First things first, you’ll need to know everything you can about the profession of optometry. What will you do on a daily basis? How much will you earn? Where will you work? What conditions does the position offer?
The best way to understand what an optometrist’s job entails is to do some initial research. Take a look at vacancies where you can read the job descriptions. This will give you some insight into the general responsibilities and duties of an optometrist.
As an optometrist, your main functions will include testing patients’ eyes and determining what treatments are best for different ailments. You’ll be expected to prescribe and fit lenses and glasses to those with impaired vision, advise on courses of action, and refer patients to other healthcare professionals. Sometimes, an optometrist, when performing eye exams, can find abnormalities that could be connected to other health issues, such as diabetes. In these cases, it will be your duty to consult with the relevant doctor.
Reading up on job offers will also show you what types of companies and work environments hire optometrists. Around the world, most optometrists work in specialised offices but many also work in doctors’ clinics and opticians’ stores or departments.
Another important aspect to understand before launching yourself into your career is the expected salary of an optometrist. Although an optometrist’s wage can vary from place to place, the average salary in the US is $125,440.
Another great way to investigate the profession is to speak to those already in the job market. So, if you’ve got a local optometrist or even an optical retailer close by, why not have a chat with them to see if they can orientate you within the field?
2. Make sure it’s right for you
When you know a little more about what the job entails, you can start to debate whether this field is for you. Understanding the basic working conditions and what will be expected of you in the role allows you to see if it fits with your aspirations and personality. Finding out that an optometrist spends most of the day with patients in an office or clinic, for example, could be something that sways your decision.
Nowadays, it is of great importance to think about how your character and your interests match with your career path. Indeed’s Career Change Report in 2019 found that nearly half of all participants had already made a drastic career change in their lifetimes. Of the remaining group, meanwhile, 65% were thinking about or had already considered making a switch. To guarantee that you’ll enjoy what you plan to do as a profession, you should think carefully before beginning and use all the tools at your disposal to help.
If you’ve had any previous contact with optometry, you may already visualise yourself in that world. But choosing a career is no easy feat. Deciding what path to take can be time-consuming and stressful. Using a career-matching test, like our very own CareerHunter™, can help you identify the best options for your individual profile so you can make informed decisions.
Opting to pursue one career or another is made far easier once you know exactly what your values are and what appeals to you and engages you. By investigating your options and evaluating your passions, with the help of career assessment tests, you can feel more confident about your decision.
Take the time to research optometry and everything that the role implies as well as assessing your goals and ambition before you get stuck in.
3. Get the right qualifications
If you’re still in school or completing your secondary education, you should focus on the sciences so that you can apply to a related undergraduate degree. Once you obtain your high school diploma, you won’t have to attend medical school but there’s still a way to go.
Depending on where you’re based and what suits you, there are different paths you can take to get the right qualifications in order to become an optometrist.
In the UK, for example, you can either get an optometrist degree or qualify through a specific programme.
If you choose to complete a BSc degree in optometry, you’ll attend university for three years and then complete a pre-registration placement year. During this year, you will work under supervision and be evaluated as you go. Once you meet the requirements for the year, you will take a final assessment known as the OSCE (short for objective structured clinical examination) in order to become fully qualified.
On the other hand, there is the possibility of an apprenticeship directly out of school. These placements allow you to enter the workforce after completing your A-Levels or GCSEs and study while on the job.
Students of optometry can also progress to a master’s degree after a BSc, if they wish to continue studying before going into the field.
In the US, meanwhile, you’ll need to complete a Doctor of Optometry (OD) which is a 4-year doctoral degree. This degree can only be accessed once students have completed an undergraduate degree in a related discipline and taken the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).
The OD combines academic classes and clinical experiences, covering areas such as physiology, anatomy, optics, visual science, and diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders.
4. Develop your skillset
Once you know what certifications you’ll need, the next step is learning what skills and abilities are required to practise as an optometrist.
As you progress through your studies and placements, you’ll learn how to use the equipment and software that is being employed in the industry. You should become as familiar as you can with all the tools of the trade. You should also aim for a high IT proficiency level, as technology becomes more and more important in the world of work.
The training received will help you to develop the necessary know-how with computer programmes or other machines. These skills, combined with the expertise you’ll bring from your studies, will turn you into a capable, efficient professional. Such qualities will allow you to perform tests and make diagnoses by interpreting data and mastering different techniques.
A person specification for optometrists would require successful candidates to possess a number of soft skills in addition to their technical knowledge. The main qualities you should aim to develop include excellent interpersonal and critical thinking skills, as well as great communication and precise attention to detail.
As a healthcare professional, you’ll also be expected to have good time management skills and be an active listener. Optometrists must also adhere to strict medical standards such as patient confidentiality and have a good bedside manner.
To become a competent optometrist, you should ensure to evaluate your skill set and try to hone these essential abilities.
5. Gain work experience
Any graduate will tell you that getting a first job is often very challenging. That’s why it’s essential to gain as much experience as possible while you’re studying.
Luckily, in the field of optometry, you’ll most likely have the possibility throughout your studies to participate in placements or laboratory training in the course of the programme. Depending on where you study and what’s required to become fully qualified, you may spend time in residency or in an apprenticeship as part of your training. You should remember to use these opportunities to your advantage and make the most of them when they come along.
If your studies don’t include clinical practice, you could get in touch with local optometry offices to enquire about volunteering or shadowing possibilities. This would allow you to get to know the inner workings of the office and build up your CV for your future. You don’t have to wait until you’re studying a degree, either. If you want to ensure you’ve made the right choice about pursuing optometry, volunteering and talking to those already in the profession is a great way to confirm your decision.
If you’re still at school, you could also discuss your options with a career counsellor who may be able to give you more tailored advice. Usually, schools, universities and specialist colleges have a range of resources and a wide network for you to access.
Remember that any real-world experience will surely boost your profile to prospective employers and could even help in school and placement applications.
Additionally, down the line, when you’ve begun your optometry studies, you can also take part in extracurricular activities organised by your school or associations. These will help you to build your network and give you an advantage when you need to catch a recruiter’s eye.
6. Get licensed
The next step in the process to becoming a fully certified optometrist is registering. In order to practise optometry, it’s obligatory to obtain a licence. Just like your studies, how to get a licence depends on where in the world you’re located, as each state and country has their own requirements. These rules are established and evaluated by the optometry board in each country.
It will probably be necessary for you to take an exam, and it’s often the case that you’ll have to renew your licence every so often. This could be annually or every five years, for example.
In the UK, you must attend a final assessment provided by the General Optical Council (GOC) before you can practise. In the US, after completing the OD, you must take the exam given by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.
Check out the conditions for your region or ask your school or placement company to help you.
Optometry is consistently ranked as one of the top healthcare professions as well as one of the best-paying jobs. This fact, combined with the prognosis of the job market, demonstrates why a career in optometry is an excellent choice.
Being an optometrist is highly rewarding, as it makes a real difference to people’s lives. Additionally, as a healthcare job that allows for regular hours, it’s a great option for those looking for a medical career with a good work-life balance.
If you decide that optometry is the career for you, let us know below, and don’t hesitate to tell us if there’s anything other budding optometrists should know!