What’s the difference between an Optician, an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist?

In Canada there are three main groups of eye care providers. Some confusion exists due to the fact that their three titles all sound similar and start with an ‘O'. In fact, the three groups are sometimes referred to as "The Three O's". Even other health care providers ask for an explanation of the difference between the three groups. There are important differences in training, expertise and competency between the three groups:

Optometrists are the primary vision care providers in Canada. They are Doctors of Optometry. They are University trained members of a regulated health profession. They are educated, trained and competent in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the human eye and disorders of the human visual system. Doctors of Optometry prescribe, fit and dispense eyeglasses, contact lenses and other vision aids to correct focus disorders. In Alberta, your Optometrist can prescribe medications for the treatment of diseases of the eyes. They can also remove superficial foreign bodies. Your Optometrist receives referrals from and often refers patients to secondary specialists, such as Ophthalmologists, for treatment of complex conditions or for eye surgery when appropriate. In short, your Optometrist is a "general eye care practitioner", much like your family doctor is a "general medical practitioner". You can learn more about the role of the Optometrist here.

Ophthalmologists are surgeons who specialize in the treatment of eye diseases and in surgery on the human eye. They have a medical degree, as well as residency training in medical and surgical treatment of the eyes at an accredited university hospital. They are Medical doctors and they are also members of a regulated health profession. Depending on their area of special interest and training, Ophthalmologists will specialize in:

  • surgery for holes, tears or detachments of the retina, or for other disorders of the retina
  • management of macular degeneration
  • cataract and refractive surgery, including laser surgery and corneal transplant surgery
  • the management of glaucoma by medicines or by surgery
  • eyelid and other oculo-plastic surgeries
  • the management of cancers of the eyes.

Ophthalmologists are secondary specialists in eye care. Patients often require referral from another health care practitioner to obtain an appointment for medical treatment or surgery.

Opticians are trained to supply, prepare and dispense optical appliances. They receive their training at a technical college. In Alberta, they are registered members of a regulated health profession. As such they are authorized to dispense corrective lenses for the purpose of dispensing eyeglasses. Opticians interpret the eyeglass prescription provided by a Doctor of Optometry or an Ophthalmologist and consider factors affecting the design and manufacture of the eyeglass lenses. They fabricate the eyeglasses, they verify them and then fit and adjust them to the patient. Some Opticians are further trained and authorized to dispense contact lenses.

In Alberta, Opticians, Optometrists and Ophthalmologists work together to meet the vision care needs of Albertans. The Doctors and staff at Doig Optometry are excited to share in that important work every day.

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