Once upon a time, long ago and far away, there was a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Okay, there were many of them, but let’s focus on one in particular.
Now T. Rex was just ambling along one day, nibbling on forests and drinking lake after lake. Now it just so happened that one day, our hero, Homo S. Apiens came wandering along, looking for some land. He was examining the soil, checking to see if he could grow crops or build a hut. Just then he heard a noise. Thunder? What was off in the distance? Was it a mountain? Oooh, he'd always wanted to live on a mountain. Towards the mountain he ran and just then the mountain became a huge dinosaur which promptly gobbled him up.
Thanks to optometrists, we are no longer dinosaur prey. Thanks to optometrists, we can see dinosaurs a mile off. Be extra thankful the Doyouthinkhesaurus is extinct. Before optometrists, the world was nothing but a blur; a huge, dangerous, fuzzy place with teeth and bottomless holes. Optometrists, with their eyeglasses and contact lenses have made the world what it is today: a huge, dangerous place with teeth, deep holes and no dinosaurs… but paparazzi. And when paparazzi attack, we are ready, with our giant sunglasses which not only deflect harmful flashes and stares… they make us look fantastic.
The truth is, humankind really couldn't see much until about a century and a half ago. Corrective lenses were a revolutionary development. Reading became all the rage. Newspapers could finally provide all the news that was fit to print, now that 72-point fonts weren't the norm. Unfortunately, people started demanding correct change, and gun fights lost a lot of their appeal.
While astronomers and biologists perfected lenses to see far and near, optometrists discovered the abnormalities that caused blurry vision, nearsightedness, farsightedness and other low-vision conditions. While the science of optometry has developed into a dual practice of simple sight correction and cosmetic appeal, the market for special lenses, millions of frame choices and even eye color changing contacts has made the career more lucrative than before. Optometry is all about seeing and being seen, while ophthalmology really gets into the little-seen world of ocular systems. Optometrists work side-by-side with ophthalmologists in joint practice or through consultation situations like surgery or medical conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol which can lead to vision loss. Optometrists are qualified to diagnose and treat certain diseases like glaucoma, retinal disease and cataracts.
Dentists and optometrists have a lot in common. They both specialize in a local area of human anatomy, they require different types of insurance and both are there to make you look nicer. If it's a toss-up between the two careers, keep in mind that people don't dread getting their eyes checked. And seriously? Would you rather spend your days on dental hygiene or “visual hygiene?” No lie, it's a thing! There are little tiny eye brushes and tubes of eye paste and the lash floss is so cute!
Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists because they are physicians. They go through medical school, a one-year internship and at least three years of residency. And the student loans are massive. Optometrists rank first among medical professionals who pay their loans back the soonest.
What you may give up in medical practice you gain by being your own boss. Optometry is a great career for entrepreneurs. Recent graduates usually find work with an established private business and learn from the mentoring atmosphere. Once you kill take over for the old doctor (old optometrists don't die, they just see the light at the end of the tunnel) it's your turn to steer the business into the future. If you have a love of marketing, networking and creative thinking, you're ready to compete with the big guys. And who are they? The Lenscrafters, Pearle Visions, and the Walmarts. Most optometrists would like the profession as it was 25 years ago, when it was a stand-alone affair, but the big guys are the ones paying the good salaries, so if you don't have the stomach for the risks of independence, you'll have plenty of soft places to land.
Optometrists don't have medical degrees, but don't be tricked into thinking you can snag an undergraduate degree, zip through and get your O.D. Optometrists do a lot more than sit behind post-Apocalyptic looking devices saying, “Can you see it now? How about now?” You will be getting a full education in diseases of the eye as well as diseases affecting eyesight. Many work in hospitals or in practice with other medical professionals. Some go on to become specialists in pediatric or geriatric care or devote their lives to not only searching, but researching. If you can't take the jokes, being an “iDoctor” will be nothing but torture. Your curriculum covers anatomy, biochemistry, ocular pharmacology, and neurophysiology of the vision system, as well as color, form, space, movement and vision perception.
Optometrists also have a keen eye for social work. Vision health is a major problem in low-income areas of the US, but the emerging economies of the world still lag far behind in vision resources. Children who can't see and children who can't read are destined for a life of labor and not much more. There are thousands of missions and organizations who view vision as a public health and policy matter. Many optometrists spend their free time or even migrate to full time work with rural or global populations. You might consider a Masters in Public Health if you can't see yourself keeping your stock of Dolce and Gabana frames au courant. Working in a group practice or for a large chain can give you the freedom to travel on your time off.