Optometrist or ophthalmologist? Which one's right for you? You won't see a surgeon for your yearly physical. Right? Likewise, you probably wouldn't call up your family doctor's practice if you knew that you needed to have your appendix out.
Why choose an optometrist vs. an ophthalmologist? Keep in mind, optometrists have graduate-level training and receive a doctor of optometry (D.O.) degree. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors, and receive an M.D. Before scheduling your next eye doctor appointment, consider:
The need for specialized care. If you have a very specific problem that requires more than general medical advice, an ophthalmologist may be the way to go. Ophthalmologists may have special training in a more focused area, notes the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS). Known as sub-specialists, these professionals complete additional training on top of what is required to become an M.D.
Whether you might need a medication or not. Both optometrists and ophthalmologist can prescribe eye medications. That said, an M.D. (such as an ophthalmologist) can prescribe a variety of meds, while an optometrist is limited by state regulatory laws.
The reason for seeking care. Are you visiting the eye doctor for an annual exam? There's nothing really 'wrong' with your eyes, you have no pains and no problems. Basically, you're just checking in to make sure you're vision hasn't changed. If this is the case, an optometrist has everything you need when it comes to caring for your eyes.
Where you want to see the eye doctor. It may be easier to find an optometrist in your area, depending on where you live. Optometrists are more widely numbered than other eye care professionals, according to the American Optometric Association. With more than 32,000 D.O.'s practicing across the country, getting an appointment with an optometrist (for a regular exam) may be less of a challenge than finding an M.D. with an open slot.
Your age. Special populations, such as children or the elderly, may want to see an M.D. Ophthalmology subspecialties often involve extra training working with narrow populations of patients.
Along with these considerations, take into account your comfort level with the doctor and his or her specific qualifications. Even though there are licensing rules (for educational and experiential requirements), you still need to ask questions. Even if you don't need a specialist right now, you might in the future. If you opt for an optometrist, ask if he or she works with an M.D. or has an ophthalmologist in the practice just in case the need for one comes up. Contact places like Arizona Eye Specialists for more information.