What are the different types of eye doctors?

When you’re trying to get a pair of eyeglasses or contacts, it can be confusing which eye doctor to go to. There are optometrists and ophthalmologists, both of which are physicians. But what is the difference between the two?


Optometrists are designated with the suffix O.D. They have to have an undergraduate degree before they even enter a four year optometry program.

Optometrists really form the backbone of the eye care profession, providing the majority of primary care. They can perform the majority of the tasks involved in taking care of your eyes and their health. That includes:

  • Eye exams
  • Eye disease treatment
  • Writing glasses prescriptions
  • Writing contact lens prescriptions

They can also diagnose conditions that have crossover with other diseases, a common example being diabetes. They can also perform minor eye surgeries, but do not perform major eye surgeries like cataract or retinal surgery.

Most eye practices—including ours—are run by optometrists, but they sometimes work together with opticians and ophthalmologists in larger practices.


Ophthalmologists are designated with the suffix M.D. or D.O. They also have to have an undergraduate degree, but then they enter a four year medical school. Once they’ve finished medical school, they will then do a residency for two to four years. That residency allows them to specialize in ophthalmology and eye surgery.

Much like optometrists, they can do the majority of the tasks involved in taking care of your eyes and their health. In addition, they do perform major eye surgeries.

Ophthalmologists may have specific specialties as well, but in general they’re able to do just about anything that you need in regards to your eye.

Choosing the right doctor

In our community, optometrists and ophthalmologists work closely together. Most general eye care is performed by optometrists. So if you’re looking for someone to care for the overall health of your eye, an optometrist is a great choice.

In fact, optometrists—including those at our office—will refer you to an ophthalmologist if the need arises. That’s standard practice, so you will be in good hands an optometrist.