Previously known as ophthalmic opticians, optometrists are primary health care specialists trained to examine the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases or abnormality and problems with general health. A detailed examination of the eye can reveal conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Optometrists make a diagnosis, offer advice and when necessary prescribe, fit and supply contact lenses or glasses. Referrals for specialists advice may be required, patients may require a corrective lens or no further treatment.
Optometrists study at university for at least three years and participate in a full year of training and supervision, called the pre-registration year, before qualifying. Once qualified, they have the opportunity to develop their interests in specialist aspects of practice such as contact lenses, eye treatment, low vision, children’s vision and sports vision.
All optometrists practising in the UK must be registered with the General Optical Council, the profession’s regulatory body, and are listed in the Opticians Register. When choosing an optometrist, look out for the letters FCOptom or MCOptom after his or her name. It means that optometrist is a fellow or member of the College and adheres to high standards of clinical practice.
There are currently (2012) around 13,000 registered optometrists in the UK.
Other eye health professionals are:
Dispensing opticians advise on, fit and supply spectacle frames and lenses after taking account of each patient's lifestyle and vocational needs. Dispensing opticians are also able to fit contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training. They are registered with and regulated by the General Optical Council and their representative body is the Association of British Dispensing Opticians.
There are currently around 5,300 qualified dispensing opticians in the UK.
Ophthalmic medical practitioners (OMPs)
Ophthalmic medical practitioners are medical doctors specialising in eye care. Like optometrists, they examine eyes, test sight, diagnose abnormalities and prescribe suitable corrective lenses. OMPs are registered with and regulated by the General Medical Council and their representative body is the British Medical Association (Ophthalmic Group). There are currently around 600 registered ophthalmic medical practitioners in the UK.
Ophthalmologists specialise in eye disease, treatment and surgery. Medically qualified, they mainly work in eye hospitals and hospital eye departments. Ophthalmologists are registered and regulated by the General Medical Council and their representative body is the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
There are currently around 1,400 ophthalmologists (listed on the specialist register) in the UK.
Orthoptists generally work with ophthalmologists in hospitals and in the community. They are concerned with eye problems relating to eye movements and the inability of the eyes to work together. Examples of these problems are squint (strabismus), lazy eye (amblyopia) and double vision (diplopia). Orthoptists are registered with the Health Professions Council and their representative body is the British and Irish Orthoptic Society.
There are currently around 1,300 orthoptists in the UK.
For further information on eye health professions
British and Irish Orthoptics Society