Ophthalmology vs. Optometry Training: Major Differences

Optometry: Four Years – Following undergraduate studies, optometrists complete four years of optometry school, which traditionally focuses on primary eye care services such as examinations, refraction, and contact lens fitting. During training, optometrists typically complete 1,910 hours of patient care in an optometric setting.

Approximately 20 percent of optometrists perform an optional residency. Otherwise, the vast majority of optometrists simply begin practice following optometry school.

Ophthalmology: Nine Years – Following undergraduate studies, ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school. The purpose of medical school is to prepare a physician to understand all aspects of the human body and how different systems interact with each other.  

Medical students also participate in two years of patient care rotations through different specialties, and this creates direct experience in managing patients in all aspects of medicine. This training becomes valuable when a patient presents with an eye issue that is not necessarily due to a source found in the eye. 

Following medical school, an ophthalmologist focuses on eye care through one year in an internship and three years in an ophthalmology residency, all of which is hospital-based training. The eye is complicated, which is why an ophthalmologist’s training is intense. The best and brightest students seek careers in ophthalmology. For instance, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston received 479 applications for six residency slots in 2018.

Following the residency, many ophthalmologists complete at least one year in a sub-specialty fellowship, such as the retina or cornea.

It is only after all of this training that an ophthalmologist is deemed prepared to practice ophthalmology in an independent setting. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

"It is estimated that at least 17,280 of the total hours that Ophthalmologists spend in medical school, internship, and residency are spent in gaining experience and taking care of patients who enter hospitals, tertiary care centers, and academic medical centers. This is based on an estimate of an average of 60 hours per week (including on-call duty, the maximum duty hours for residents is 80 hours per week) multiplied by 48 weeks and by six years. During training, the ACGME requires that ophthalmologists manage a minimum of 3,000 outpatient visits with a broad range of disease presentation, and that they assist at and then personally perform under supervision a specified minimum number of various surgical procedures."

Click here to learn more about the differences in training between Ophthalmology and Optometry.