Although an optometrist is called "doctor," optometry is a health-care
profession, not a medical profession. Students don't attend medical school
-- they study in specialized optometry programs.
Only 17 schools in the U.S. train optometrists. Students start with
at least three years of preoptometric study, says the Occupational Outlook
Handbook. Then they take a four-year program leading to a Doctor of Optometry
The first two years of optometry school focus on science and academic
studies, often with an introduction to clinical practice in the second
In optometry professor David Williams' program, first-year students "shadow"
third- and fourth-year students as they work with patients. Typical first-year
courses might include human anatomy, neuroanatomy and medical biochemistry.
The final two years focus on clinical practice, with academic studies
slipping into second place. Patient care and learning from experienced practitioners
are the focus.
Optometry schools usually run outpatient eye care clinics -- these provide
work experience for students. The clinic is staffed by professional optometrists,
who are typically professors in the optometry school.
In the fourth year, students go out on "rotation," which involves working
at a clinic located in another city or country.
Admission to these schools is competitive. "It is advisable that students
aiming at an optometry school or college should concentrate on the biological
sciences, physics and math," says Williams.
Candidates must pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). The test
is administered twice a year, in October and February.
Schools examine student scores closely. "We take the OAT very seriously,"
says professor Lisa Wade of the Southern College of Optometry.
Her school also requires students to pass the exams administered by
the National Board of Examiners in Optometry in order to graduate. "Not
all schools do this," she says.
It's a challenging program, but the preparation you do in high school can
really help you out later on. High school students should "concentrate on
their math and science," Wade says.
There are special fees for professional instruments and books, such as
an ophthalmoscope, a retinal kit, a trial lens kit, and a diagnostic kit.
Upon graduation, there are national and state exams to take in order to
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Optometrists
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