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What is an optometrist?

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 health assessment, offer clinical advice and when necessary prescribe spectacles or contact lenses. In addition, optometrists can dispense, fit and supply spectacles or contact lenses.

They also supervise trainee optometrists and dispensing opticians, and medical students. They must supervise dispensing to patients under the age of 16 or who are registered as sight impaired unless this is being supervised by a dispensing optician, doctor or another optometrist. This is also the case for trainee optometrists, medical students or dispensing opticians training to be contact lens opticians.

Referrals for a specialist’s advice may be required; patients may require a corrective lens or no further treatment. 

Optometrists study at university for at least three years and must participate in a period of assessed clinical training in practice, before being deemed to have the knowledge and skills needed to be registered. Once registered, they have the opportunity to take further qualifications and develop their interests in specialist areas of practice.

All optometrists practising in the UK must be registered with the General Optical Council, the profession’s regulatory body. When choosing an optometrist, look for the letters FCOptom or MCOptom after their name. It means that the optometrist is a fellow or member of the College and adheres to high standards of clinical practice. 

There are currently (December 2015) 14,642 registered optometrists in the UK.

To find out about common eye conditions and find your nearest optometrist visit our Look After Your Eyes website.

Find out more about a career in optometry


Other eye health professionals are:

Dispensing opticians
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 6,101 qualified dispensing opticians in the UK.

Ophthalmic medical practitioners (OMPs)
OMPs are ophthalmologists who undertake NHS sight tests under the General Ophthalmic Services contract. 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. There are currently around 398 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 professional body is the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

There are currently around 2,532 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 and Care Professions Council and their representative body is the British and Irish Orthoptic Society. 

There are currently around 1,378 orthoptists in the UK.


For further information on eye health professions

General Optical Council

Association of British Dispensing Opticians

General Medical Council

British Medical Association

Royal College of Ophthalmologists

British and Irish Orthoptics Society

Association of Optometrists