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The 3 O's of Eye Care

I’m sure most of us have been confused by the differences between all the different eye care professionals at some point in our lives. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between Ophthalmologists, Optometrists, and Opticians to make it less confusing for those looking to get an eye exam.


Ophthalmologists (pronounced “OFF-thal-mologists) are eye doctors (MDs) who went to four years of undergraduate schooling, four years of medical school, and four to five years of ophthalmic residency training. It is during their residency when ophthalmologists learn medical and surgical treatments of eye diseases.

In many cases, ophthalmologists pursue a fellowship, which is an additional 1-3 years of training where they gain sub-specialty knowledge. Sub-specialties can include cornea and external disease, retina, oculoplastic surgery, pediatrics, or neuro-ophthalmology.

Ophthalmologists are licensed to perform eye surgery, treat eye diseases with eye drops, eye injections, and oral medications, and prescribe glasses and contact lenses.


Optometrists are eye doctors who went to four years of undergraduate schooling and four years of optometry school. Some optometrists pursue an additional year of residency, though this is not required for licensure. Through residency training optometrists may sub-specialize in specialty contact lenses, pediatrics and vision therapy, or low vision management.

An easy analogy for people to understand when comparing optometrists and ophthalmologists is a general dentist versus an oral surgeon. People will come to the optometrists as their primary provider for management of their glasses, contact lenses, and taking care of ocular disease, but if surgery is needed, they would be referred to the proper ophthalmologist.

Optometrists are licenses to treat eye diseases with eye drops and some oral medications, and prescribe glasses and contact lenses.


Opticians specialize in the fitting, adjustment, and measuring of eyeglasses. They are able to fill prescriptions written by an ophthalmologist or optometrists but do not do any testing to determine a prescription or write their own prescriptions. Many opticians go through specific training and licensures but that is not required in every state.

If you have any questions about which eye care professional is right for your needs, we at the Eye Care Center are happy to help.

By Alicia Alvarado, OD

Eye Care Center - Maple Grove
7880 Main Street North
Maple Grove, MN 55369
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Maplewood, MN 55109
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Fridley, MN 55432
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