Optometry is not a relatively new profession in the United States. In fact, the American Optometric Association that we now know today was founded in 1898. The first state law recognizing optometry as a profession was in 1901 in Minnesota, with all states having an optometric practice law by 1921.
Even given the rich history of optometry as a profession in the United States, I still find myself often getting asked questions about the “role” optometrists play in today’s modern health care system.
I get it, there’s a lot of confusion about what and who is involved in eye care in 2022. It can be difficult to keep track of all the names/roles associated with eye care. It also probably doesn’t help that these jobs all sound and look alike on paper. Explaining the difference between an optometrist, ophthalmologist and optician can be tiresome at times, but needed.
Questions I get often are:
“So, you do surgery?” Well, that depends on the state.
Or “You fix glasses, right?” I can, but that’s often done by more skilled opticians.
Lastly, “So you just do glasses and contacts then?” Also, definitely not true based on my two years of optometry school so far. Optometrists are involved in primary, comprehensive, optical, and medical eye care.
The best piece of advice I have received in optometry school so far is that the human eyes are a window into the rest of the human body. I have found that to be true so far in my rigorous training. I’ve learned practical skills ranging from taking blood pressure, refraction and to how to read medical imaging scans involving all the structures of the eyes and brain. The eyes may be the window, but there is always a bigger picture of my patient’s overall health.
So going forward, I happily answer these questions and try my best to explain all the different ways optometrists can help improve anyone’s overall health. Thus, the best way to advocate for my patient’s health is to advocate on behalf of them, and the role optometrists can play in the health care system. I encourage all optometry students or practicing optometrists to join your school, state or national optometric organization. Advocate, advocate, advocate and make a difference.