Value Your Eyes


Optometrist, Opthalmologist, Optician or Ocularist - what is the difference?

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist specialises in primary eye care, which includes:

  • Providing vision examinations to correct all types of refractive errors of the eye.
  • Writing an optical prescription to correct vision.
  • Choosing and prescribing the correct optical lenses and spectacle frames.
  • Corneal measurement and fitting of contact lenses.
  • Detecting eye diseases and referring to ophthalmology.
  • Preventing blindness by the early detection of glaucoma and diabetes.
  • Identifying and monitoring eye conditions related to other diseases.
  • Offering eye excercises for binocular vision disorders.
  • Sport vision therapy and prescriptions.
  • Low vision aids for partially sighted.
  • As primary healthcare providers, optometrists detect and refer many conditions to other healthcare disciplines.

Optometrists complete a four year Bachelor of Optometry degree at university. Many have and will complete post graduate programmes through the Graduate Institute of Optometry. Optometrists may also enrol in a two year programme to become proficient in prescribing certain ocular therapeutic drugs.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An Ophthalmologist (eye specialist) is a medical doctor with additional specialised training in all aspects of eye care. Ophthalmologists 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 practise medicine and surgery. An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, and performs eye surgery.

An Ophthalmologist’s training includes:

  • 5 years of medical school
  • 2 years of internship
  • 1 year of community service
  • 4 years, at least, of residency (hospital-based training) in the diagnosis, medical treatment, and surgical procedures of eye disorders.

Ophthalmology is a surgical specialty that includes many different subspecialties, including:

  • Cataract surgery
  • Paediatric ophthalmology
  • Glaucoma
  • Strabismus
  • Neuro-ophthalmology
  • Retina
  • Anterior segment and cornea
  • Oculoplastic and orbit
  • Ocular oncology

What is an Optician/ Optical Dispenser?

The National Diploma in Optical Dispensing at Cape Peninsula University of Technology is a three-year course. Opticians play a very important role in the supply chain of spectacles. Opticians are commonly employed by optometrists but not always. They are technicians trained to design, verify and fit spectacle lenses and frames, and other devices to correct eyesight. They use prescriptions supplied by optometrists or ophthalmologists, but do not test vision or write prescriptions for visual correction. Opticians are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.

What is an Ocularist (Artificial eyes)?

Ocularists manufacture custom-designed, individually crafted and hand painted ocular prosthetics as well as supplying and fitting a range of stock ocular prosthetics, or artificial eyes. An Ocularist is an eye care professional who specialises in the design, manufacture, and fitting of ocular prosthesis for people who have lost an eye or eyes due to trauma or illness. The fabrication process for a custom made eye typically includes taking an impression of the eye socket, shaping a plastic shell or model, painting the iris and sclera and then fitting the ocular prosthesis.

Chris Faul – Editor in chief

Publisher: Amatola Publishing
1 Upper Hill Street
Belvidere, Knysna

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