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The Differences Between an Optometrist, Optician, and Ophthalmologist

optician working with a client at an optometrist clinic

optician working with a client at an optometrist clinic

Many Canadians know about the importance of regular eye exams and having proper eyewear. But not everyone is aware of the different roles that eye care professionals play to ensure their eyes remain healthy. In fact, the terms “optometrist,” “optician,” and “ophthalmologist’ often get confused or are used interchangeably.
 

With that in mind, we thought we'd help break down the differences between these three roles and show how these unique eye care professionals work together to help care for your eyes.
 

What is an Optometrist?

 

An optometrist is a primary eye care provider who can conduct eye exams, write prescriptions, and treat eye diseases.

Canadian optometrists require seven to eight years of training at a post-secondary institution before obtaining their professional designation as a Doctor of Optometry (also known as an OD). There are currently two schools of optometry in Canada: The University of Waterloo and the Université de Montréal. There are 20 additional optometry schools in the United States whose graduates are accredited to practice in Canada. Many optometrists also choose to do an extra year of residency (a type of internship) to specialize in a particular type of training or eye care field.
 

Here in Canada, optometrists are overseen by provincial/territorial boards that ensure all qualifications are up to date. National tests are also administered by the Canadian Examiners in Optometry to ensure that OD training meets the high level of care expected by Canadian patients.
 

What is an Optician?

 

An optician (sometimes known as a "dispensing optician") is a fully trained vision care technician who specializes in fitting eyeglass lenses, frames, contact lenses, and other vision correction devices.

In Canada, an optician is required to be licensed by an accredited ophthalmic institute, must be registered with a provincial regulatory agency, and must possess an ophthalmic dispensing licence.


Opticians are highly skilled in current eye care technologies and treatments for corrective lenses. Unlike an optometrist, though, they are not legally able to write prescriptions, or diagnose and treat eye diseases. Opticians and optometrists work hand-in-hand to ensure a patient’s vision needs are identified and corrected.
 

What is an Ophthalmologist?

 

An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor who is also licensed to assess vision and eye health, carry out surgical procedures, as well as offer pre- and post-operative eye care.

In Canada, medical school graduates must complete a residency that's a minimum of five years before becoming an ophthalmologist. In the last two years of their residency, ophthalmologists will carry out extensive surgical training, and many doctors will continue on with a post-graduate residency for an additional one to two years to specialize in a particular vision component, such as the cornea, retina, or neuro-ophthalmology (how the eyes and brain work together).
 

Like an optometrist, ophthalmologists in Canada are also overseen by provincial/territorial boards that ensure their qualifications are up to date. Optometrists and ophthalmologists work hand-in-hand to deliver a high level of care to patients, with optometrists often referring patients who require medical or surgical treatment to a local ophthalmologist.


For a complete eye exam and eye fitting with an FYidoctors optometrist and optician, book an appointment at an FYidoctors near you.