There are numerous types of eye care specialists in the vision care industry today, the main two being ophthalmologists and optometrists. Providence Eye & Laser Specialists sheds some light on the differences between these two types of eye care specialists for boosted public education.


Ophthalmolgists provide patients with comprehensive eye care. From general vision exams to surgical eye care, ophthalmologists are physicians and eye surgeons that attended medical school (4 years), completed an internship (1 year), residency (3-4 years), and sometimes a fellowship (1-2 years). These eye care specialists have earned either an M.D. or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree in order to become an ophthalmologist. A specialist in the eye care industry, ophthalmologists must have an active medical practitioner license in any state they are currently practicing in, ensuring their legitimacy and certification as a medical professional. The majority of eye care specialists who are ophthalmologists are board certified by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Able to offer the public primary, secondary and tertiary care, these eye care specialists also diagnose general body diseases and conditions. Should a patient experience an ocular manifestation of a systemic disease, ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat these issues as well.

To name a few examples, individuals can visit a reputable ophthalmologist for:

  • Annual eye examinations (recommended)
  • Glasses and/or contacts prescriptions
  • Diagnosis and medical care for vision conditions such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and chemical burns
  • vision correction surgery such as LASIK eye surgery or cataract surgery
  • medical treatment for eye issues surrounding other diseases, especially common issues like arthritis and diabetes
  • surgical care for ocular issues, including drooping eyelids, eye trauma, crossed eyes and cataracts
  • some plastic surgery involving the ocular area (the smoothing of "Crow's Feet," for instance)

There is a population of ophthalmologists, like every other medical specialty, that regularly conduct research in hopes of accelerating treatments and cures for vision disorders and diseases.


Optometrists are certified medical professionals who hold an O.D. (Doctor of Optometry) that is typically obtained in a 4-year program after obtaining an undergraduate degree. These eye care specialists can be equally apt at diagnosing vision conditions and ocular abnormalities, with some state laws allowing optometrists to treat certain vision conditions via prescriptions. While optometrists provide primary and sometimes secondary eye care, tertiary eye care (surgical treatment) is not included in an optometry board certification.

A large portion of this eye care specialist's job consists of completing eye exams and vision testing, detecting vision disorders, removing foreign objects that have become lodged in the eye, and offering eyewear fitting and dispensing.

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists provide critical ocular health care. As a consumer, it is important to assess your vision care needs to determine if an ophthalmologist or an optometrist is a more appropriate choice. Online research, talking with your primary care physician and discussing your eye health with friends and family can better help you make the appropriate decision. Afterward, researching the specific qualifications, experience and reviews/reputation of the eye care provider will ensure you receive the standard of medical care you want and need.