What is an Optometry Degree?

Optometry degree programs teach students how to diagnose, treat, and correct vision problems. The curriculum brings together topics in vision science, optics, biology, disease, genetics, and physiology.

Graduates of optometry degree programs typically go on to become optometrists. They are trained and qualified to:

  • Perform eye examinations
  • Perform various vision tests and analyze the results of those tests
  • Diagnose and treat eye defects and diseases
  • Prescribe corrective lenses
  • Recognize eye indicators of other health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, thyroid disorders, tumors, and cancer

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Optometry – Three to Four Year Duration
Generally, a bachelor’s degree is required for entry into optometry school. Some schools offer a specific Bachelor’s Degree in Optometry. The curriculum of these programs covers the following:

  • Anatomy of the human eye
  • Eye conditions, problems, and diseases
  • Corrective treatments for vision problems

Most graduates with this degree go on to earn the doctoral degree required to become an optometrist. Those who do not choose to continue their formal education may be able to find jobs as assistants or technicians in optometry offices and clinics.

Bachelor’s Degree in a related Pre-Optometry Science Discipline – Four Year Duration
The majority of students who wish to become an optometrist start by earning a bachelor’s degree in a science discipline. Two examples are microbiology and biochemistry. Below is some information on each of these options:

Bachelor’s programs in microbiology introduce students to the detailed work of studying microscopic organisms like bacteria, plankton, and viruses.

Courses include:

  • Microbial Physiology – the study of the growth and metabolism of microbial cell structures such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites in living organisms
  • Physics – the study of matter, energy, and the interaction between them
  • Organic Chemistry – the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-containing compounds
  • Immunology – the study of the immune system, which protects living organism from infection through various lines of defense
  • Statistical Analysis – how to analyze a statistical sample, a representative selection drawn from a total population
  • Calculus

The first two years of a bachelor’s program in biochemistry are focused on courses in general chemistry, mathematics, and biology. It is typically in the second year of study that students take their first full course in biochemistry. The curriculum for years three and four is made up of lecture, laboratory, and research courses specific to the field. The following are some samples:

  • Biochemistry – Proteins, Lipids, and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry – Nucleic Acids and Biological Information Flow
  • Antibiotics and Antibiotic Targets
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular and General Genetics
  • Structural Biology – Principles and Practice
  • Regulation of Signaling Pathways
  • Genomics of Microbial Communities in Human Health
  • Bioinformatics
  • Medical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry Techniques
  • Biochemistry Research Project

Master’s Degree in Optometry – Two to Three Year Duration
The Master’s Degree in Optometry is an academic degree, not a professional one. It is not specifically targeted at students who wish to practise in the field as a Doctor of Optometry. Individuals who pursue this graduate degree typically are interested in optometry work in the areas of research, administration, and teaching. It is important to note, therefore, that a Master’s Degree in Optometry is not required to begin doctoral studies in optometry.

Some schools offer a concurrent master’s/doctoral degree.

Doctoral Degree in Optometry – Four to Five Year Duration
After passing the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and being accepted into an accredited optometry program, students can start the four year process of earning their Doctor of Optometry Degree and becoming licensed to practise.

Optometry doctoral programs are made up of classroom lectures combined with hands-on clinical training. Students may choose to concentrate their studies in an optometry specialization, such as ocular disease or geriatric optometry.

Below are some of the core courses:

  • Patient Centered Cases
  • Optometry Principles – Primary Exam
  • Anatomy for the Optometrist
  • The Neuroscience of Vision
  • Clinical Medicine
  • Systematic Pharmacology
  • Physical and Physiological Optics
  • Ocular Disease – Glaucoma
  • Vision Rehabilitation
  • Patient Care Services
  • Contact Lenses
  • Optometry Special Procedures
  • Surgical Eye Care
  • Managing an Optometry Practice

Degrees Similar to Optometry

Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine concerned with the anatomy, function, diseases of the eye. Degree programs in the field prepare students to work as physicians who specialize in the medical and surgical care of the eyes.

Ophthalmic Technician
Students who train to become ophthalmic lab technicians learn how to make eyeglasses and contact lenses. They also study physics and math and the application of these subjects to their work.

Ophthalmic Technology
Ophthalmic technology is another discipline that focuses on eye care. Degree programs in the field teach students the skills they need to work as assistants to ophthalmologists. Coursework covers eye examination, diagnosis of eye diseases and defects, and proper use of eye testing equipment.

Optician programs train students to fabricate and fit vision aids according the prescription of an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Orthoptics programs teach students how to diagnose, and manage eye conditions that affect eye movement and visual development. These conditions include strabismus (misalignment of the eyes/squinting) and amblyopia (lazy eye).

Pre-Medicine (Pre-Med)
Pre-med programs, designed to prepare students for medical school, include courses in general biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and physics.

Skills You’ll Learn

In learning the practical skills needed to work as an optometrist, students of the field also gain a set of transferable soft skills:

  • Listening – listening to patients is key
  • Observation / attention to detail – optometry involves being able to see small details and subtle differences
  • Communication – optometrists need to be able to convey information to colleagues and patients
  • Data analysis / critical thinking / problem solving – optometry requires being able to interpret and understand observations made

What Can You Do with an Optometry Degree?

Most optometry grads work in clinical practice. They may be employed in:

Independent Optometry – working in private practice
Corporate Optometry – working with large corporations exist with optical/vision retail chains and eye care stores
Hospital Optometry – working in hospitals, treating patients in need of urgent care

There are also non-clinical roles for optometry graduates, some of which may require additional training:

Freelance writing – writing about the optometry field

Healthcare administration – this role generally requires experience working in healthcare systems

Healthcare IT consulting – opportunities in this field are expanding as electronic health records become common

Optometry practice management consulting – helping practice owners with the business aspects optometry

Recruiting – working for a medical recruiting firm, specializing in finding qualified optometrists for open positions

Research and development – vision science research opportunities may exist with pharmaceutical companies

Teaching – working as a professor of optometry or as a supervisor of optometrist trainees

Career Paths

Learn about your career prospects after graduation.

Read about Career Paths