Choosing An Eye Doctor

Ophthalmologist. [Oph·thal·mol·o·gist]. [Opff-thall-mall-uh-gist].
I promise, it’s much easier to find an ophthalmologist than it is to pronounce the name. Choosing an eye doctor is a big decision, and that’s why we’re here to help. First and foremost, you need to understand the core differences between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist.

Medical Title

An optometrist has the letters “O.D.” (Optometry Doctor) at the end of their name and is a Doctor of Optometry. Whereas an ophthalmologist has the letters “M.D.” (Medical Doctor) at the end of their name and is a physician—or a medical doctor that specializes in vision and eye care.


An optometrist typically spends 8 years on their education; 4 years on their bachelor’s degree followed by another 4 years at an optometry school. On the other hand, an ophthalmologist is required to obtain a bachelor’s degree, attend med school for 4 years, and then pursue a PhD, which typically requires a 1-year internship and a 3-year residency training program. That’s 12 whole years of education!

Differences in Practice

We’ve learned so far, that O.D.s and M.D.s are pretty much both smarty pants, but their unique educational differences are what set ophthalmologists apart. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists may perform eye exams, prescribe medications, glasses, and contact lenses. However, the medical scope of optometrists is limited in accordance to the state law under which they practice. Ophthalmologists can do what optometrists do, plus they are trained to perform ocular surgery and treat more eye diseases. Due to the vast nature of their medical practice, ophthalmologists are more likely to see and catch unusual eye problems that may require additional in-depth testing and imaging—there’s not a single boring day in ophthalmology.

Differences in Insurance

Did you know that there are literally hundreds of unique insurance policies out there? If you visit an optometrist, you will most likely use your vision insurance policy. However, if you visit an ophthalmologist you will need to bring your general health insurance policy. Ophthalmologists are M.D.s, remember? You will use the same insurance with an ophthalmologist as you do to visit your Primary Care Doctor. Always make sure to check that your insurance is accepted and that you understand your out of pocket costs associated with your policy.

In summary, if you are young, generally healthy and simply want a routine eye exam or a new glasses/contact lens prescription, you may be able to see an optometrist. But when should you see an ophthalmologist?

  • If you are interested in LASIK or vision correction surgery, or have previously had any eye surgery
  • If you or your family have a history of eye diseases or disorders
  • If you have diabetes (diabetes can affect your vision, and should be monitored by an ophthalmologist)
  • If you are over the age of 50, it may be a good idea to start seeing an ophthalmologist every year, if you haven’t already
  • If you have sudden visual changes, pain, or eye trauma.
  • If you are seeing spots, halos, floaters, flashes of light, dark spots, wavy or distorted lines.

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