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Differences between Optician, Optometrist & Ophthalmologist, and how to pursue them?


An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or a physician (DO), specially trained in the medical and surgical care and treatment of the eyes.  Becoming an ophthalmologist can take 12 or more years of advanced education and training.  Ophthalmologists must complete 5 years of medical school, and 1 year of internship (hospital training).  After that, the doctor undergoes 3 to 5 years of hospital residency to train in the medical specialty of ophthalmology.

An ophthalmologist may practice as a comprehensive, or general, ophthalmologist, a doctor who treats a wide range of eye problems and conditions.  For example, patients might visit a comprehensive ophthalmologist for a routine medical eye examination, which would include having their vision checked and perhaps receiving a prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses.  Patients also would visit a comprehensive ophthalmologist to have their eyes examined for a particular disease or injury and receive medication or surgical treatment.

  • Vision services, including eye exams
  • Medical eye care -- for conditions like glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns
  • Surgical eye care -- for trauma, crossed eyes, cataracts, glaucoma, and other problems
  • Diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions related to other diseases, like diabetes or arthritis
  • Plastic surgery -- to raise droopy eyelids or smooth out wrinkles


Optometrists (Doctors of Optometry, or ODs) attend 4 years of college and 4 years of optometry school, where they are trained to examine the eyes to determine the presence of a limited number and type of vision problems and certain problems related to eye movement.  Optometrists primarily prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.   Some states in the United States permit optometrists to diagnose (determine the presence and nature of) certain eye diseases and treat them with mostly topical medications (eyedrops or ointment), within limitations.  No state permits optometrists to perform conventional surgery.

  • Perform eye exams and vision tests.
  • Treat conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism
  • Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses
  • Provide low-vision aids and vision therapy
  • Detects diseases, injuries, and disorders related to the eyes. 


Opticians are individuals who are trained to design, verify, and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, and other devices to correct eyesight.  They use prescriptions supplied by ophthalmologists or optometrists, but they do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction.  Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.

In contrast to optometrists and opticians, ophthalmologists are medical doctors who can examine the eyes in relation to the general health and condition of the whole body.  The ophthalmologist is the only once of these three professionals who is qualified as a physician to diagnose all eye diseases and to prescribe or perform medical and surgical treatment of the eye.

  • Check lens prescriptions
  • Provide, adjust, and repair glasses, frames, and contact lenses
  • Take facial measurements
  • Help decide which type of lenses and frames will work best
  • Order and check products, including contacts and eyeglass lenses

Ophthalmologists Pathway (In Malaysia)

(Eye M.D.s) are different from optometrists and opticians in their training and in what they can diagnose and treat.

As a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and surgery. He or she diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery, and prescribes and fits glasses and contact lenses.

Ophthalmologists complete:

  •  5 years of medical school;
  •  1 year of internship;
  •  between 5 – 8 years of hospital residency (hospital-based training) in the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of eye disorders.

After four years of college and eight additional years of medical education and training, an ophthalmologist must pass a rigorous examination given by the American Board of Ophthalmology.

Optometrist Pathway (In Malaysia)

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry, licensed to practice optometry. Optometrists determine the need for glasses and contact lenses, prescribe optical correction, and screen for abnormalities of the eye. They attend two to four years of college and four years of optometry school.

In some states, optometrists can prescribe a limited amount of drugs to help diagnose and treat certain eye conditions. Optometrists generally do not perform surgery.

Optician Pathway (In Malaysia)

An optician-licensed by a state to make optical aids-fits, adjusts and dispenses glasses, contact lenses and other optical devices on written prescriptions of a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist. Training for an optician varies from a preceptorship to two years of opticianry school.

**According to the Association of Malaysian Optometrists (AMO), for a person to practise as an optometrist in Malaysia, one must be registered with the Malaysian Optical Council (MOC). It is also important to ensure that your qualification is recognised by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.

To view tertiary programs related to this article, click here to go to the list of recommendation.  If you are not sure which path you want to pursue for your tertiary education,  you should find this psychometric test here to be helpful in providing some aptitude breakdown and course suggestions upon completion of the test. Feel free to proceed to the test, it's free after all. 

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