I would like to introduce all of our patients and friends to a series of articles that will help you, your family and your friends to be better prepared to make the best decisions about how to take care of your health through your eyes, and to understand what your options are while doing so.
Let's start by discussing different ways in which optometrists and ophthalmologists practice.
Ophthalmologists attend 4 years of medical school before specializing in eyecare. They go through 4 years of general ophthalmology and if they choose so, they can attend another 2 years of fellowship to become more specialized as a cornea, retina, glaucoma, neuro or pediatric specialist. Most ophthalmologists focus their attention on secondary and tertiary care, which include more complicated cases that require more intense or invasive treatments. Their offices tend to be very busy because they receive referrals from an overwhelming number of primary care practitioners.
Optometrists on the other hand attend four years of optometry school after earning an undergraduate degree. During those four years, we focus on the clinical aspects of eye disease management, fitting of simple and medically necessary contact lenses, and we spend a great deal of time studying the neurological relationship to the eyes and are trained to care for pediatric patients and brain injury patients who have delays in vision development or visual issues due to disease or trauma (this may include such treatments as vision therapy). We are mainly responsible for primary care and some also care for patients at the secondary level.
Although both professions have the capability of helping you with basic and simple visual issues, the ideal approach, and best use of your time and resources would be to have an optometrist, such as yours truly, be responsible for your primary eyecare and then be referred to the secondary or tertiary ophthalmologist should the need arise. My staff and I often hear reports from new patients that they were dissatisfied with a primary eye exam at an ophthalmologist’s office because they didn’t feel that the doctor spent enough time with them and that’s because they have to move faster on the simpler cases in order to have time to spend with more complicated cases.