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How to Become an Optometrist

Optometrists must complete a Doctor of Optometry program and get a state license. Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete after earning an undergraduate degree.


Optometrists need a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree. In 2011, there were 20 accredited Doctor of Optometry programs in the United States, one of which was in Puerto Rico. Applicants to O.D. programs must have completed at least 3 years of postsecondary education, including coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and mathematics. In practice, most students get a bachelor’s degree before enrolling in a Doctor of Optometry program. Applicants must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) to apply to O.D. programs.

Doctor of Optometry programs take 4 years to complete. They combine classroom learning and supervised clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, optics and visual science, and the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the visual system. After finishing the O.D., some optometrists do a 1-year residency program to get advanced clinical training in a specialty. Specialty areas for residency programs include family practice, primary eye care, pediatric or geriatric optometry, vision therapy and rehabilitation, cornea and contact lenses, refractive and ocular surgery, low vision rehabilitation, ocular disease, and community health optometry.


All states require optometrists to be licensed. To get a license, a prospective optometrist must have an O.D. from an accredited optometry school and must complete all sections of the National Boards in Optometry. Some states require an additional exam. Many states require optometrists to take continuing education and renew their license periodically.

Important Qualities

Decision-making skills. Optometrists must be able to evaluate the results of a variety of optical tests and decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

Interpersonal skills. Because they spend much of their time examining patients, optometrists must be able to ensure that their patients are at ease.

Speaking skills. Optometrists must be able to clearly explain eye-care instructions to their patients, as well as answer patients’ questions.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition