Careers in Eye Care



An ophthalmologist is an MD who specializes in eye care.  An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats eye diseases with the full range of treatment options at his/her disposal, including prescription drugs and surgery.  There are several sub-specialties including glaucoma, refractive surgery, cornea, and retina. 


The education of an optometrist includes 4 years of optometry school after receiving an undergraduate degree, resulting in a doctor of optometry (OD).  The optometrist prescribes glasses and contact lenses.  They also examine the eye for diseases.  The ability of the optometrist to treat diseases is limited.  This varies from state to state.  If the optometrist diagnoses a disease that he/she cannot treat, the patient is referred to an ophthalmologist for treatment.


The optician dispenses and repairs glasses.  This involves helping the customer select an appropriate frame and explaining options regarding lenses.  The optician makes measurements to insure that the lenses fit properly to the frame.  An optician may have to be licensed, or not, depending upon state regulations.  Some opticians work in an optical lab, making glasses.

Ophthalmic Nurse: 

This is usually an RN who works in the field of eye care.  Most are employed in hospitals or surgery centers were they assist the ophthalmologist with surgical procedures.

Ophthalmic Medical Personnel (OMP): 

The designation generally refers to any non-doctor who works with patients in eye care, certified or not.

Ophthalmic Assistant: 

An ophthalmic assistant may be certified or not.  A certified assistant uses the designation "COA".  An assistant who works for an ophthalmologist is eligible to take the certification exam after one year of continuous work experience.  A graduate of a COA school is eligible to take the exam without any work experience outside of the school curriculum.

For information on schools for ophthalmic assisant, technician, and technologist, go here.

For information on becoming an ophthalmic assistant through on-the-job-training, go here.

Ophthalmic Technician:  

An OMP usually does not claim to be a technician unless he/she is certified.  A certified ophthalmic technician uses the designation "COT".  A COA is eligible to take the COT certification exam after one year of work as a COA.  A graduate of a COT school is eligible to take the exam without any work experience outside of the school curriculum.

Ophthalmic Technologist:  

An OMP who is a certified ophthalmic technologist uses the designation "COMT".  A COT is eligible to take the COMT exam after 3 years of work experience as a COT.  A graduate of a COMT school is eligible to take the exam without any work experience outside of the school curriculum.

Ophthalmic Scribe:

An OMP who is a certified ophthalmic scribe uses the designation "OSC". This person is trained to assist the doctor in documenting the exam,  usually in an electronic medical record. This certification can be useful as an entry level position to certification as an assistant (COA). More information of the ophthalmic scribe here.

Certified Retinal Angiographer (CRA): 

This OMP is an ophthalmic imaging specialist who is certified by the Ophthalmic Photographer's Society (OPS).  There is also a certification status for Optical Coherence Tomography.  For more information, visit the OPS at

Certified Orthoptist (CO): 

This OMP is certified to provide testing and treatment related to eye muscles and movements of the eyes.  For more information, visit

Certified Paraoptometric (CPO), Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA), and Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT): 

These OMP hold certifications similar to COAs and COTs, with the difference that they work for optometrists instead of ophthalmologists.

There are other, less common, certifications in eye care.  Many of these OMP levels of certification are attainable through on-the-job training.

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