Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist? At first glance, you might think they are the same thing, and you’d be right – partly.

The first thing to understand is that they are both eye doctors and they both provide vision care. However, it can be confusing since both can examine your eyes and prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Let’s take a look at these two types of eye doctors: optometrists and ophthalmologists. An optometrist is an eye doctor who has earned a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. They generally complete a four-year college degree, plus four years of post-graduate training in optometry school. The ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) who has completed four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship and a three-year residency in ophthalmology.

One of the common analogies is dentistry. An optometrist has completed a similar education as your dentist and the ophthalmologist’s training is comparable to an oral surgeon. Dentistry does differ in services offered by the dentist or oral surgeon. Unlike your vision care between eye doctors, there is not usually an overlap of care and treatments by your dentist and oral surgeon.

If your eyes are healthy and don’t require specialized medical or surgical treatment, the type of eye doctor you choose for routine eye exams is a matter of personal preference. However, if you already have a medical eye problem, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts, it is important to select an eye doctor who is highly trained in monitoring and treating your condition. Also, only an ophthalmologist can perform eye surgeries.

In certain cases, care for specific eye problems may be provided by an optometrist and ophthalmologist working as a team. This type of co-management is a good solution if you are pleased with the quality of eye care from your optometrist, but you might develop a specific medical eye condition that needs to be treated by an ophthalmologist.

Another consideration when choosing which type of eye doctor to use is to determine what your vision insurance or health insurance provides coverage for. The choice of an eye care provider is an important health care decision, because you trust them with the precious gift of sight and a lifetime of good vision. Now that you understand the differences between the optometrist and ophthalmologist you can make a more informed decision.