Optometry is the third largest independent health care profession in the United States. Optometrists examine the eyes and vision system, diagnose vision problems, prescribe and provide treatment. Treatments include glasses, contact lenses, vision therapy, aids for low vision, and therapeutic drugs for specific diseases. Optometrists are licensed to use and prescribe diagnostic and therapeutic drugs in all 50 states; they perform the majority of pre- and post-operative care for ocular surgical cases. Optometrists work with ophthalmologists, who are physicians specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and defects, including surgery. They also work with opticians, who fit, supply and adjust eyewear according to prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists.
Over 120 million persons in the United States wear some form of eyewear; it is estimated that half of the remaining population has need for visual attention. 86% of children in the United States under the age of 6 years have never had an eye exam; about 1 in 20 of them suffers from amblyopia (the early stage of blindness caused by disease of the optic nerve). Over 90% of people over 45 years old need a visual correction; thus, aging of the American population bodes well for the future of the profession of optometry. In 2003, $ 32.1 billion were spent on the total optometric market in the U.S. About 550 optometrists leave the field each year due to retirement, disability or death; this number is expected to increase to about 800 by 2015. The United States Department of Labor estimates that over the next ten years, employment opportunities for optometrists will grow faster than the average of all other occupations.
Doctors of Optometry work under conditions that are clean, pleasant and quiet. They are never called upon to cut the skin which makes the profession very appealing to some individuals. Children and adults alike enjoy their visits to the optometrist's office because pain is not inflicted upon them yet improvements in vision or comfort are the usual result. Very limited emergency care is required, and the optometrist's evenings and weekends are free and unencumbered with patient problems. Thus, the profession offers normal family life, and has one of the lowest substance abuse and suicide rates of any of the health professions. Malpractice insurance premiums are very low compared to other health professions. According to the American Optometric Association Research and Information Center, mean net income for optometrists in self-employed practice in 2010 was $ 147,856 and $ 95,092 for those in employed practice. Median net income for all optometrists in all practice types in 2010 was $ 132,052.
There are twenty colleges of optometry in the United States, one in Puerto Rico and two in Canada; each year, they admit 1660 new students; 2,513 applicants submitted a total of 12,775 applications to the colleges for the first year positions in 2010. Sixty-seven percent of the students currently enrolled in optometry schools are women; approximately 35% of practicing optometrists are female. African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans are underrepresented in optometry.
Additional information can be obtained from the American Optometric Association (http://www.aoa.org) and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (http://www.opted.org). .Admission to a college of optometry requires a minimum of three years of undergraduate work in prerequisite courses (typically in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, English and psychology) all of which are available at Oglethorpe University; contact Dr. Dan Schadler (email@example.com) for further information. Optometry school requires four years to complete; the first two years emphasize classroom and laboratory work in the basic medical sciences; the remaining two years are composed primarily of supervised patient care in hospitals, private practices and clinics. Upon completion of the program, the new Doctor of Optometry is qualified to seek appropriate state licensure prior to practicing optometry. Although a residency is not required, about 10 percent of all graduates choose to complete additional training in a specialty area.