Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist: How to Choose an Eye Doctor

When choosing an eye doctor, you may not know the difference between all the different eye specialists out there—and you might also wonder which one is right for you.

Board-certified optometrist Dr. Chelsey Shepos explains the differences between optometrists and ophthalmologists, as well as how patients can choose the eye doctor that’s right for them.

Defining the Different Kinds of Eye Care Providers

There are three types of eye care professionals out there who patients will encounter when looking at their options.

  • An optometrist is an eye doctor who can perform eye health exams, write prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses, and manage ocular disease. They are often referred to as a primary care physician for your eyes. An optometrist, like Dr. Shepos, will have an “O.D.” (Doctor of Optometry) designation after their name.
  • An ophthalmologist is a doctor who can perform all of the same eye care duties as an optometrist but may specialize in providing special services, like different types of surgery such as cataract surgery and glaucoma procedures. Ophthalmologists have “M.D.” (Doctor of Medicine) or “D.O.” (Doctor of Osteopathy) designation after their names.
  • Opticians focus on fitting patients for glasses and other visual aids. Opticians aren’t doctors and don’t diagnose eye health conditions, but they may assist optometrists or ophthalmologists in the office.

Optometrists vs. Ophthalmologists: What’s the Difference?

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can help patients manage their eye health and update glasses and contact lens prescriptions—though they don’t provide the exact same services.

There are two key differences between optometrists and ophthalmologists: their levels of education and the types of patient services they provide.

1. Education Level

Optometrists and ophthalmologists both go to school to study eye health. But, they follow different educational paths and are in school for different lengths of time.

  • After getting a bachelor’s degree, optometrists go to a four-year optometry school and may do a year or more of post-graduate residency.
  • After their bachelor’s, ophthalmologists go to a four-year medical school and then complete four years of residency. They may also pursue a fellowship training program to specialize in performing certain surgeries or treating certain conditions.

2. Patient Services

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can:

  • Perform eye health exams
  • Diagnose eye conditions, infections, and diseases
  • Prescribe medication, glasses, and contact lenses
  • Provide pre- and post-surgical care
  • Help patients manage their overall eye health

However, optometrists don’t perform surgery like ophthalmologists. If you need a surgical procedure, like cataract removal or glaucoma procedures, your optometrist can refer you to an ophthalmologist for that additional care.

Which kind of eye doctor is right for me?

The doctor who’s best for you depends on your specific eye health needs. 

Visit an optometrist if… 

  • You need new glasses or contact lenses. Some optometrists, like Dr. Shepos, help patients with advanced contact lens fittings, such as for scleral or gas-permeable lenses.
  • You have eye-related health issues, such as dry eye, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy.

Visit an ophthalmologist if… 

  • You need a surgical procedure performed, like cataract removal or laser eye surgery.
  • Your optometrist or primary care physician has referred you to an ophthalmologist for special care.

Visit either one if…

  • You need a comprehensive eye exam or management of an ocular disease
  • There are any changes in your vision, even if they’re minor changes
  • Your eyes hurt or are watering constantly
  • Your eyes are red and itchy
  • You’re seeing flashes of light, dark spots in your vision, or unusual “floaters”

Schedule an Appointment With an Eye Doctor Today

Your eye health and vision are important, so see an optometrist today for an exam, to get new glasses or contact lenses, or to talk about any concerns you may have.

Call 813.284.2300 or click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Shepos at a Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health location in Land o’ Lakes or North Tampa.

chelsey shepos odAbout Chelsey Shepos, OD

A Pittsburgh native, board-certified optometrist Dr. Chelsey Shepos has a wide variety of experience seeing patients in different clinical settings. Dr. Shepos aims to help patients manage their eye health by providing comprehensive, compassionate care.

In addition to providing general eye care services, Dr. Shepos specializes in helping patients with ocular disease, dry eye, and advanced contact lens fittings.


Ophthalmology • Optometry

Recommended Articles


Situations that hurt our eyes and threaten our vision are alarming. Besides the immediate problem, there is the danger of permanent damage. When we have an eye emergency, we may need prompt medical attention to avoid irreversible loss of vision. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign that you […]


Contact Lens Fitting and Specialty Lenses

Chelsey Shepos, OD

Contact lenses are prized for the independence and comfort they provide for their wearers. Specialty contact lenses, designed to meet patients’ individual optical requirements, have made contacts even more popular. The key to enjoying these advantages, however, is in the lens fitting procedure. Without a proper contact lens fitting, they can actually harm your ocular […]
Skip to content