Optometrists are health specialists who are trained to examine the eyes, advise on visual problems, and prescribe and fit spectacles or contact lenses. They used to be called ophthalmic opticians.
The eye examinations that an optometrist carries out usually last around 20 to 30 minutes. During that time the optometrist will:
Some optometrists help patients to choose suitable frames, although in many cases this is done by a dispensing optician.
All optometrists are qualified to fit contact lenses and some may choose to specialise in this area.
All optometrists are trained to use some diagnostic drugs (eye drops) to enable them to examine the patient's eye, when appropriate. Optometrists are also trained to manage minor eye conditions and this may include using some therapeutic drugs (again in the form of eye drops). Some optometrists have done specific training to enable them to use or supply additional therapeutic drugs.
Some optometrists work either full or part time in a hospital environment, working alongside doctors and other health professionals. The range of tasks that the optometrist may do in a hospital is generally greater than that found in routine community practice.
Hours of work vary, but most full-time optometrists work 35 to 39 hours a week over five days, from Monday to Saturday. Some work longer hours, and they may work Sundays. Part-time and flexible working hours are possible.
Optometrists usually work in special rooms where they test patients' eyes. The rooms normally have no natural light and some of the eye examination is conducted in semi-darkness. The work involves some standing and bending, although much of the consultation is conducted with both the optometrist and patient sitting down.
Starting salaries may be between £16,500 and £24,000 a year. Higher salaries may be available to experienced staff with additional responsibilities. Those working in and around London receive additional allowances.
There are around 10,500 registered optometrists practising in the UK, a number that has grown in recent years. The majority work in private practice, which includes large chains, small independents and franchises. Most others work in hospitals in the NHS. A few are employed in the armed forces, prison services and charities, while some teach in universities.
Vacancies for optometrists may be advertised in Optometry Today and Optician, as well as on the internet, including www.jobs.nhs.uk.
Prospective optometrists start by studying for an optometry degree course approved by the General Optical Council (GOC).
Entry to optometry degree courses usually requires at least three A levels/five H grades, including science-based subjects, such as biology, chemistry, physics or mathematics, plus five GCSE's/S-grades (A-C/1-3) including English, maths and physics or double award science.
Some universities may accept equivalent qualifications, either on their own or in combination with other qualifications. They include a relevant BTEC national or higher national award, an SQA higher national award, a Scottish Group Award and the International Baccalaureate.
Exact entry requirements vary between universities, so candidates must check carefully. Entry is competitive and conditional offers are generally set much higher than the minimum.
GOC-approved optometry degree courses are offered by:
- Anglia Ruskin University
- Aston University
- University of Bradford
- Cardiff University
- City University
- Glasgow Caledonian University
- University of Manchester
- University of Ulster.
Most courses last three years full time. Glasgow Caledonian University and The University of Manchester offer four-year courses. Manchester's course includes a pre-registration year.
To practise as an optometrist in the UK, an individual must be registered with the GOC. To register, an individual must qualify by:
Most people who complete optometry degrees are able to find pre-registration training places, especially if they are flexible and prepared to travel.
Optometrists must renew their registration with the GOC on an annual basis, and must continue to update their skills and knowledge throughout their careers. To maintain registration with the GOC the optometrist needs to gain at least 36 Continuing Education and Training (CET) credits over a three-year cycle, more if they are registered as having additional specialties, such as additional supply of therapeutic drugs. They also need to declare any criminal convictions to the GOC and the GOC will consider whether these will influence their registration.
The College of Optometrists offers higher qualifications for qualified optometrists. The highest qualification, the fellowship, is equivalent to an MSc.
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An optometrist should:
Some optometrists choose to specialise in one area of eye care. Optometrists in private practice may be able to progress to managerial roles within larger firms. Hospital optometrists follow a clearly defined career structure.
It is possible for optometrists to set up on their own, in partnership, or as a franchise. There are also opportunities to work abroad.
Association of Optometrists (AOP),
2 Woodbridge Street, London EC1R 0DG
Tel: 020 7549 2000
The College of Optometrists,
41-42 Craven Street, London WC2N 5NG
Tel: 020 7839 6000
General Optical Council (GOC),
41 Harley Street, London W1G 8DJ
Tel: 020 7580 3898
Health of Wales Information Service
NHS Careers (England)
Tel: 0845 606 0655
NHS Scotland Careers Information Service
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.