What is an Ophthalmologist?

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The Three O's (Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, Optician)

There has long been confusion about the respective roles that each of the "Three O's" plays in eye care. It is confusing because we have three words that date back to a dead language and all start with "OP"?

Ophthalmologist or Eye MD:

An ophthalmologist is a physician (Doctor of Medicine, M.D., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, D.O.) who specializes in the examination and treatment of the eyes.

To become an ophthalmologist, one must attend medical or osteopathic school after college and serve an internship in general medicine. After the internship, the individual must complete a residency program in ophthalmology which is generally three years long and includes between 5,000 and 15,000 encounters with patients.

Though most ophthalmologists practice what is known as "general" or "comprehensive" ophthalmology, some choose to specialize in a particular part of the eye (such as the retina or the muscles around the eye) or type of condition or disease (such as glaucoma). If the ophthalmologist wishes to specialize, he or she often must complete a fellowship of an additional year or more.

Thinking of becoming an ophthalmologist? Click here to learn more. 

A common misbelief about ophthalmologists is that they are not primary eye care providers or that they are more expensive than optometrists. That is simply not true. Ophthalmologists  provide total medical eye care, from performing a check up to managing a complicated disease, often for the same cost.


  • Check vision for abnormalities and disease.
  • Prescribe glasses and contact lenses.
  • Treat all eye conditions and disease, including those of the surrounding flesh, bones, and muscle with surgery (conventional and laser surgery), medications, etc.
  • Are trained to diagnose other conditions and illnesses based on symptoms evident in the eyes and refer patients to another appropriate physician for treatment.¬†


An optometrist (Doctor of Optometry or O.D.) is not a medical doctor, but is trained to diagnose eye abnormalities, prescribe, supply, and adjust spectacle and contact lens prescriptions, and treat some types of eye disease.

The optometric education consists of college plus four years in an optometric college, during which time they will have approximately 1,200 patient encounters.

An optician fits, adjusts and dispenses eyeglasses that are prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Opticians can not examine the eyes for disorders or prescribe contact lenses, glasses, or medication.