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What Specific Classes Do I Take to Be an Eye Doctor?

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There are two kinds of eye doctors: ophthalmologists and optometrists. Ophthalmologists must have a medical degree and can provide surgical services and prescribe medication. Optometrists are what most people think of when they need to see an eye doctor. Optometrists examine patients’ eyes and diagnose vision problems such as nearsightedness and farsightedness. They prescribe treatments, eyeglasses and contact lenses for vision problems. Optometrists also diagnose eye diseases such as glaucoma. Because optometrists perform such specialized work, entry into the occupation is competitive and difficult. Optometrists must successfully complete all coursework to earn an optometry degree as well as become licensed in the state where they intend to practice.

Educational Track

According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, students are admitted into optometry school based on overall grade point average, science grade point average, college attended, degree progress and course load difficulty. A bachelor’s degree is preferred for entry to most optometry schools but not a requirement. Once students complete undergraduate prerequisite courses and pass the Optometry Admissions Test, they can apply to a four-year accredited school of optometry. Upon completion of the optometry program, successful students are awarded a Doctor of Optometry degree. To practice as an optometrist, candidates must obtain a state-issued license and pass a National Board written exam as well as a state or regional clinical exam.

Undergraduate Classes

Eye doctors must have a strong background in science. As undergraduates, eye doctors typically major in biology or chemistry but can major in any discipline as long as all optometry prerequisite courses are complete. The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry advises undergraduates interested in admission to optometry school to take English; general biology with lab; general chemistry with lab; college algebra; and trigonometry their first year. In their second year, students should take organic chemistry; microbiology; calculus; physics; psychology; and statistics. In their junior year in college, pre-optometry students should take physiology; biochemistry; anatomy; history; speech; and social sciences.

Optometry School Courses

Once prospective eye doctors have been admitted to optometry school, the doctor of optometry curriculum maintains a strong basic science component. Students continue courses in human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and therapeutic pharmacology. The first two or three years of most optometry programs include classroom coursework. The remaining time in the program includes clinical and laboratory training. Students take externships where they learn clinical patient care as well as how to effectively manage an optometry practice.

Employment and Wages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of optometrists is expected to increase 24 percent through 2018. As of May 2009, the average eye doctor earned $96,140 a year nationally. Self-employed eye doctors can earn more than $175,000 a year. Although competition for optometry programs is high and the course load is difficult, eye doctors who successfully complete training enjoy rewarding careers and high salaries.