Which type of eye doctor should you see?

The term “eye doctor” can apply to both optometrists and ophthalmologists, says UW Medicine Dr. Courtney Francis, but these two types of eye experts differ in their training and the treatments they can offer. 

“It's really important to recognize that we're a team, an eye care team, and that we all work together to make sure we're taking care of patients,” said Francis, an ophthalmologist at UW Medicine’s Eye Institute at Harborview

Optometrists are equipped to perform basic eye exams, fit a patient for corrective lenses (eyeglasses and contacts), evaluate for refractive errors and screen for eye disease, Francis said.  Optometrists also refer patients to ophthalmologists for more specialized treatments. 

“Patients that have more concerning issues with their vision, or it's not clear what's going on, certainly need to be escalated to the level of an ophthalmologist,” she said. 

Ophthalmologists perform procedures on the eye, which can include laser or scalpel surgery.  These procedures address conditions such as glaucoma, retinal disease, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. 

In terms of training, ophthalmologists are physicians who attain either a four-year Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree, followed by four more combined years of surgical training during residencies and internships. Optometrists earn a four-year Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree.

Download broadcast-ready soundbites in which Francis contrasts the care offered by optometrists and ophthalmologists. 


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UW Medicine