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Eye Care Providers

There are three primary types of eye care providers: ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. Who you should see depends on your vision needs and personal preference. While all providers may play an important part in your eye health, they each have different levels of training and expertise.


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) or osteopathic doctors (DOs) who specialize in eye and vision care. They diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgery for eye disorders, and write prescriptions for glasses, contact lenses, and medications.

Ophthalmologists need to complete four years of medical school, a year of internship and a minimum of three years of residency in ophthalmology. Many ophthalmologists specialize in an area of medical or surgical eye care, such as glaucoma, retina, cataract, and many more.


Optometrists are licensed eye doctors (ODs) who can test your vision, prescribe glasses and contact lenses, and diagnose or treat all eye diseases. Unless your state specifically allows it, they do not typically perform surgeries. Visit your state's board of optometry website to learn more.

Optometrists need to complete four years of postgraduate training in an optometry school. After completion, they may participate in your preoperative and postoperative care if you have eye surgery performed by an ophthalmologist.


Most opticians fit and sell glasses and contact lenses using prescriptions written by ophthalmologists and optometrists.

Training and licensing requirements for opticians vary from state to state. Many opticians must complete training programs and be certified or licensed.

Who Should You See?

Choosing which eye care professional to see can depend on your eye and vision needs. While it’s best to speak to an eye care professional for specific advice, there are some general guidelines:

  • Both ophthalmologists and optometrists are trained to perform comprehensive eye exams that can detect and diagnose diseases.
  • Both can test your vision and prescribe glasses and contact lenses.
  • Both can prescribe medicine for common eye problems, such as eye infections, and chronic eye diseases such as glaucoma.
  • Ophthalmologists are licensed to perform eye surgery for both minor and complex eye disorders.
  • If you need a new pair of glasses or contact lenses and have a current prescription, you can see an optician.