Becoming an optometrist is a rewarding career path that allows you to help people see their best while performing eye exams, prescribing glasses and contacts, diagnosing eye diseases, and providing pre- and post-operative care. This comprehensive guide will walk you through each step of the process so you can achieve your goal of being an optometrist.
Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Optometrist
1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree with Prerequisite Courses
The first step is to complete a 4-year Bachelor’s degree, ideally with a major in a science-related field such as biology or chemistry. As an optometry school applicant, you will need to have taken certain prerequisite courses. Here are the common prerequisites:
- 1 year of general biology with lab
- 1 year of general chemistry with lab
- 1 year of organic chemistry with lab
- 1 year of physics with lab
- 1 year of English
- 1 year of college math
- 1 semester of psychology
- 1 semester of statistics
Some schools may have additional requirements, so check with the programs you plan to apply to. Maintaining a high GPA in your bachelor’s program is important. The average GPA for accepted optometry students is around 3.4.
2. Take the OAT
Almost all optometry programs require applicants to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). This standardized exam covers natural sciences, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning. Schedule your test date to take the OAT one year prior to when you plan to start optometry school. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and take the exam again if needed. The average OAT scores for accepted students tend to be around 330.
3. Apply to Optometry Schools
Research optometry programs and select schools to apply to. Look for programs that align with your career interests. Most Doctor of Optometry (OD) programs take four years to complete. When applying, you will need to submit transcripts, OAT scores, letters of recommendation, and complete optometry school interviews. The application process is competitive so apply to multiple programs to increase your chances.
4. Complete a Doctor of Optometry Degree
Once accepted, you can begin working towards your Doctor of Optometry degree. This will take four years. The first two years focus on coursework and labs covering optics, biochemistry, ocular anatomy, eye diseases, pharmacology, and more. The last two years shift to clinical rotations where students gain hands-on experience in specialty eye care clinics and settings. Some key rotations include primary care, contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation, and pediatrics. Students also treat patients under supervision at the school’s teaching eye clinic.
5. Pass Licensing Exams
After graduating from optometry school you need to get licensed to practice. All states require the following exams:
- NBEO Part I (Applied Basic Science)
- NBEO Part II (Patient Assessment and Management)
- NBEO Part III (Clinical Skills)
Some states also require the NBEO Part IV (Treatment and Management of Ocular Diseases). Once licensed, you will be able to diagnose eye diseases, examine patients, prescribe corrective lenses and medications, and carry out therapeutic treatments as an optometrist.
6. Complete a Residency (Optional)
Residency training is not required but can be beneficial if you want to specialize or pursue a clinical academic career. Residencies allow for advanced clinical training in a particular area like contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation, ocular disease, pediatrics, or primary eye care. Residencies typically last one year.
Career Prospects for Optometrists
Pursuing a career as an optometrist has many rewards. Here are some top advantages:
- Job growth: Employment for optometrists is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, providing good job prospects.
- Flexibility: Optometrists have flexible work options including private practice, retail settings, hospitals, and academic institutions.
- Meaningful work: Optometrists improve people’s lives every day by helping them see clearly and diagnosing eye conditions early.
- Good salary: The median salary for optometrists is over $126,000 annually. Those working in specialty practices tend to earn more.
- Business ownership: Many optometrists enjoy running their own private practice.
Becoming an optometrist requires diligent study and practice, but the payoff is huge. You’ll be able to combine your love of science with helping patients on a daily basis.