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1.Optometrist
Cerner Corporation
Missouri - St. Louis

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Optometrist


Significant Points
Licensed optometrists must earn a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited optometry school and pass a written and a clinical State board examination.
Admission to optometry school is competitive.
Optometrists usually remain in practice until they retire, so relatively few job openings arise from the need to replace those who leave the occupation.

Nature of the Work
Optometrists, also known as doctors of optometry, or ODs, provide most primary vision care. They examine people’s eyes to diagnose vision problems and eye diseases, and they test patients’ visual acuity, depth and color perception, and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Optometrists prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses and provide vision therapy and low-vision rehabilitation. Optometrists analyze test results and develop a treatment plan. They administer drugs to patients to aid in the diagnosis of vision problems and prescribe drugs to treat some eye diseases. Optometrists often provide preoperative and postoperative care to cataract patients, as well as patients who have had laser vision correction or other eye surgery. They also diagnose conditions due to systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, referring patients to other health practitioners as needed.

Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists or dispensing opticians. Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery, and diagnose and treat eye diseases and injuries. Like optometrists, they also examine eyes and prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses. Dispensing opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses and, in some States, may fit contact lenses according to prescriptions written by ophthalmologists or optometrists. (See the sections on physicians and surgeons; and opticians, dispensing, elsewhere in the Handbook.)

Most optometrists are in general practice. Some specialize in work with the elderly, children, or partially sighted persons who need specialized visual devices. Others develop and implement ways to protect workers’ eyes from on-the-job strain or injury. Some specialize in contact lenses, sports vision, or vision therapy. A few teach optometry, perform research, or consult.

Most optometrists are private practitioners who also handle the business aspects of running an office, such as developing a patient base, hiring employees, keeping records, and ordering equipment and supplies. Optometrists who operate franchise optical stores also may have some of these duties.


Working Conditions
Optometrists work in places—usually their own offices—that are clean, well lighted, and comfortable. Most full-time optometrists work about 40 hours a week. Many work weekends and evenings to suit the needs of patients. Emergency calls, once uncommon, have increased with the passage of therapeutic-drug laws expanding optometrists’ ability to prescribe medications.


Employment
Optometrists held about 32,000 jobs in 2002. The number of jobs is greater than the number of practicing optometrists because some optometrists hold two or more jobs. For example, an optometrist may have a private practice, but also work in another practice, in a clinic, or in a vision care center. According to the American Optometric Association, about two-thirds of practicing optometrists are in private practice. Although many optometrists practice alone, a growing number are in a partnership or group practice.

Salaried jobs for optometrists were primarily in offices of other health practitioners, including optometrists; offices of physicians, including ophthalmologists; or health and personal care stores, including optical goods stores. A small number of salaried jobs for optometrists were in hospitals; the Federal government; or outpatient care centers, including health maintenance organizations. Almost a third of optometrists were self-employed.


Training
All States and the District of Columbia require that optometrists be licensed. Applicants for a license must have a Doctor of Optometry degree from an accredited optometry school and pass both a written and a clinical State board examination. In many States, applicants can substitute the examinations of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry, usually taken during the student’s academic career, for part or all of the written examination. Licenses are renewed every 1 to 3 years, and, in all States, continuing education credits are needed for renewal.

The Doctor of Optometry degree requires the completion of a 4-year program at an accredited optometry school, preceded by at least 3 years of preoptometric study at an accredited college or university. Most optometry students hold a bachelor’s or higher degree. In 2002, 17 U.S. schools and colleges of optometry held an accredited status with the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association.

Requirements for admission to schools of optometry include courses in English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. A few schools also require or recommend courses in psychology, history, sociology, speech, or business. Since a strong background in science is important, many applicants to optometry school major in a science such as biology or chemistry, while other applicants major in another subject and take many science courses as well. Applicants must take the Optometry Admissions Test, which measures academic ability and scientific comprehension. Most applicants take the test after their sophomore or junior year, allowing them an opportunity to take the test again and raise their score. A small number of applicants are accepted to optometry school after 3 years of college and complete their bachelor’s degree while attending optometry school. Admission to optometry school is competitive.

Optometry programs include classroom and laboratory study of health and visual sciences, as well as clinical training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders. Courses in pharmacology, optics, vision science, biochemistry, and systemic disease are included.

Business ability, self-discipline, and the ability to deal tactfully with patients are important for success. The work of optometrists requires attention to detail and manual dexterity.

Optometrists wishing to teach or do research may study for a master’s or Ph.D. degree in visual science, physiological optics, neurophysiology, public health, health administration, health information and communication, or health education. One-year postgraduate clinical residency programs are available for optometrists who wish to specialize in family practice optometry, pediatric optometry, geriatric optometry, vision therapy, contact lenses, hospital-based optometry, primary care optometry, or ocular disease.


Other Qualifications

Advancement

Job Outlook
Employment of optometrists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012, in response to the vision care needs of a growing and aging population. As baby boomers age, they will be more likely to visit optometrists and ophthalmologists because of the onset of vision problems in middle age, including those resulting from the extensive use of computers. The demand for optometric services also will increase because of growth in the oldest age group, with its increased likelihood of cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, and hypertension. Greater recognition of the importance of vision care, rising personal incomes, and growth in employee vision care plans will spur employment growth, as well.

Employment of optometrists would grow more rapidly were it not for anticipated productivity gains that will allow each optometrist to see more patients. These expected gains stem from greater use of optometric assistants and other support personnel, who will reduce the amount of time optometrists need with each patient. Also, laser surgery that can correct some vision problems is available, but expensive. Optometrists will still be needed to perform preoperative and postoperative care for laser surgery; however, patients who successfully undergo this surgery may not require optometrists to prescribe glasses or contacts for several years.

In addition to growth, the need to replace optometrists who leave the occupation will create employment opportunities. Relatively few opportunities from this source are expected, however, because optometrists usually continue to practice until they retire; few transfer to other occupations.

Earnings
Median annual earnings of salaried optometrists were $86,090 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,030 and $115,550. Median annual earnings of salaried optometrists in 2002 were $87,070 in offices of other health practitioners. Salaried optometrists tend to earn more initially than do optometrists who set up their own independent practice. In the long run, however, those in private practice usually earn more.

According to the American Optometric Association, median net annual income for all optometrists, including the self-employed, was $110,000 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $82,500 and $156,500.



Related Occupations
Other workers who apply scientific knowledge to prevent, diagnose, and treat disorders and injuries are chiropractors, dentists, physicians and surgeons, podiatrists, and veterinarians.


Sources of Additional Information
For information on optometry as a career and a list of accredited optometric educational institutions, contact:


Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, 6110 Executive Blvd., Suite 510, Rockville, MD 20852. Internet: http://www.opted.org

Additional career information is available from:


American Optometric Association, Educational Services, 243 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141-7881. Internet: http://www.aoanet.org

The Board of Optometry in each State can supply information on licensing requirements.

For information on specific admission requirements and sources of financial aid, contact the admissions officers of individual optometry schools.


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