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What is an Optometrist? The Three O's of Eyes


Three different people can help you take care of your eyes. Opticians who fit, make, and dispense glasses. Optometrists are eye doctors that test your eyes and prescribe various treatments for them. And there are ophthalmologists, a specialist eye doctor that performs eye surgery and takes care of more complicated eye conditions.

In Saskatoon, we have all three "O's of eye care." This post explains the differences in qualifications and training so you know who to see for your eyes.


Let's start with opticians. Opticians undergo a two-year diploma program covering all the theory and hands-on training required to make and dispense prescription eyeglasses. They have the skills to take your eyeglass prescription and turn it into an actual pair of glasses. Opticians take many measurements to properly make the lenses for your glasses to give you the best possible vision.


Optometrists, a.k.a. eye doctors, are most often known as the people that examine your eyes and write prescriptions for glasses. But, depending on where you are in the world, optometrists can do so much more!


In North America, optometrists have a doctor of optometry (OD) degree. To become an optometrist, you must do three to four years of undergraduate university before starting your four years of optometry school. The optometrist training includes optics, visual perception, eye anatomy, glasses, and contact lenses. Optometrists trained in Canada or the USA also study primary medicine and pharmacology.


The first two years of optometry school emphasize background in medical science and vision science theory. It involves a combination of in-class theory teaching and hands-on lab learning. The third year of optometry starts to combine the background into the application with patient care. The fourth year is comprised of internships to get supervised experience taking care of real people.


All three of our optometrists at The Eye Studio YXE completed their doctor of optometry degrees at the University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science. The University of Waterloo is the only university in Canada that offers an optometry degree in English instruction.


After completing their doctor of optometry degree, some optometrists choose to do an additional year of training. This post-graduate residency gives more specialized experience in different parts of eye care. Residencies can be focused on children's eye care, vision training, contact lenses, sports vision training, low vision rehabilitation, or diseases of the eyes.


Optometrists can also diagnose and treat various eye conditions. We can prescribe medicines to treat things like red eyes, infections, and glaucoma. We also can diagnose and coordinate proper care with specialist surgical care for other more severe or complicated illnesses that can affect the eyes.


Speaking of eye surgery and complicated eye conditions, the other type of eye doctor is an ophthalmologist. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors, eye physicians and surgeons. Their training starts similar to optometrists with 3-4 years of undergraduate study at a university. They go on to four years of medical school, five years of a surgical residency then an optional one to two years of fellowship training. That can be 13 to 15 years of training to become an eye physician and surgeon, if you're counting.


As optometrists, we work closely and share many patients with our ophthalmologist and eye doctor colleagues. We are the experts in glasses, contacts, vision training, and low vision rehabilitation. At the same time, ophthalmologists are the experts in medical and surgical problems for the eyes. We work together to provide our patients with the vision they need to live everyday life.


There are only a few ophthalmologists in Saskatoon, and they often have very long waiting lists. Everybody needs an optometrist to take care of their basic eye care needs and check them for the concerning eye conditions. Optometrists and ophthalmologists coordinate eye care to ensure everybody gets the care they need without waiting too long.


Hopefully, this gives you a good idea of how the three "O's of eye care" can help you. You now know who to talk to for your specific eye and vision needs. If you're still not sure, give us a shout, and we can point you in the right direction!