Your ophthalmologist went to medical school; your optometrist went to optometry school. As a medical doctor who has completed at least eight years of medical training, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice both medicine and surgery. An optometrist (Doctor of Optometry or O.D.) is not a medical doctor, but is trained through four years of optometry school to diagnose eye abnormalities; prescribe, supply, adjust glasses and contact lens prescriptions; and treat some types of eye disease.

Glaucoma remains a leading cause of preventable blindness. A patient who has glaucoma has a medical condition and it is extremely important for the optometrist to coordinate future care with an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor. This is not the same thing as a second opinion – it is ongoing co-management of the patient to ensure proper medical treatment.

No. Texas has more than 1,600 trained ophthalmologists (eye physicians and surgeons) with practices located across the state. Further, we are the envy of the country with eight (soon to be nine) residency programs graduating new ophthalmologists every year.

After completing four years of medical school, ophthalmologists undergo thousands of hours of supervised training during a three-year residency program. Under close supervision, they conduct thousands of surgeries and diagnose and treat patients in a hospital setting. Optometrists do not receive medical degrees nor are they licensed physicians. Optometrists’ training is much more limited: they complete four-years of optometry school, which has virtually no overlap with medical school curriculum.

No, insurance companies are billed based upon the procedure, not the provider. There is no automatic cost difference. Also, because their medical expertise means less guessing and fewer unnecessary tests, ophthalmologists tend to prescribe fewer medications and order fewer tests than non-physician optometrists do.

Equally as significant as having the knowledge and skill to perform injections in and around the eye is having the decision-making capabilities to determine when procedures, such as injections, are appropriate.

For instance, injection of chalazia (lumps in or along the edge of an eyelid) with steroids by some optometrists has drawn considerable attention. A significant concern is the crucial diagnostic ability required to accurately identify a lesion as a chalazion. A cancerous lesion or other serious eyelid problems may masquerade as chalazions with potential harm to the patient resulting from either delay in diagnosis or inappropriate treatment. For most ophthalmologists, incision and curettage is preferred over steroid injection, due to the additional risks associated with the medication and the opportunity for diagnostic examination and pathology of the lesion.

Texas optometrists may prescribe some eye drops and medications for a limited number of days, because if today’s powerful medications are not working in this limited time frame, something more may be going on with the patient’s health that requires diagnosis and treatment from a physician. Unlike optometrist training, ophthalmology training combined with medical school covers this in detail. If optometrists were permitted to apply stronger medications for longer intervals, the medications might mask symptoms of larger issues and potentially cause more harm than good.

Absolutely not. All Texans deserve quality medical eye care. Lowering our state’s standards for training would be inherently wrong, unnecessary and dangerous. Our state has growing capacity for the right eye care professionals to treat all Texans.