An optometrist is a healthcare professional who practices optometry. Optometry involves examination of the eyes and associated visual organs for defects, malfunctioning and diseases and subsequent diagnosis and management of the same.
During the early days of its initiation, the sole focus of optometry was the correction of refractive error through the use of spectacles. However, with the gradual progress of time, optometry has grown on to include the diagnosis and management of some ocular diseases too.
Role of an Optometrist
An optometrist performs the following functions:
- Examination, diagnosis, treatment, management and prevention of disorders of the eye and allied organs.
- Diagnosis of conditions that affect vision like diabetes, high blood pressure, cataracts, macular degeneration etc.
- Recommend off the counter medications for cure of eye diseases.
- Prescribe spectacles and corrective lenses.
- Conduct vision therapy and correct problems of low-vision
- Educate patients about vision health and lifestyle changes to help maintain good ocular health.
- Conduct research and contribute to the advancement of visual sciences.
Becoming an Optometrist in the UK
To practice as an optometrist, one has to be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC). For this, one must:
- Secure 2:2 (or above) degree in an optometry course approved by the GOC
- Complete 12 to 15 months pre-registration training with salary under the guidance of a GOC registered optometrist who is a member of the College of Optometrists
- Pass the College of Optometrists’ GOC work-based and final assessments
Several GOC approved universities run degree courses in optometry. Most of them last three years; however, there is also an integrated four-year Master of Optometry (MOptom), which includes the pre-registration period. The successful completion of this will enable one to practice as registered optometrists under the GOC.
To be qualified for the course, one usually needs a minimum of AAB at A-level, or equivalent, with at least two science subjects. Graduates with a 2:1 degree or above in a health-related subject (chemistry, biomedical science, pharmacology) are also eligible for the undergraduate course.
After completion of the course, if one secures 2:2 or above and receives a Certificate of Clinical Competency, which expires in two years, one may pursue the pre-registration training. Failing to achieve a 2:2 or expiration of a certificate requires one to complete the GOC’s Optometry Progression Scheme.
Tools of an Optometrist
An optometrist uses a variety of tools for diagnosing disorders and effectively dispensing vision treatment.
- Charts – Eye charts are the most common tools used by an optometrist. For example Jaegar eye chart, single Lea symbol books and Smellen eye chart.
- Testing – During eye examinations, optometrists may use a device known as a phoropter, which helps measure the refractive error of a patient’s eye and flip ocular lenses to find the correct set of lenses with the help of which the patient can read the charts properly. Other tools include prism bars and occluders to assess eye alignments and movements. A topographer is used for corneal topography. Corneal topography is a medical imaging technique for examining the entire cornea. During the exam, penlights and transilluminators may also be used to assess the pupil’s response to light. To get a detailed view of ocular structures, speciality magnifiers are used. Optometrists also use retinal cameras (or fundus cameras) to take photographs and identify various aspects of the eye. The retinal camera is a low power microscope with a camera attached to it. Diagnostic eye drops help to assess the anatomical structures of the eye. Automated computerised perimeters are used to test visual fields. Some optometrists may also offer OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) scanning of the Retina.
- Measuring – To prescribe the best fitting lenses, optometrists need to measure the size of a patient’s eyes. A keratometer measures the curvature of the cornea, computerised refractors measure the refraction of the eye and tonometers measure eye pressure. A ruler-like tool is used to measure the distance between two pupils for the appropriate fitting of corrective lenses.
- Recording – The latest electronic health records (EHR) technology helps in keeping a track on all patients and their conditions. They also help in sending automatic reminders to patients about appointments