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The Three “O”s of Eye Care – Opticians, Optometrists, & Ophthalmologists

There are three types (focuses) of professionals in the eye care industry. These three professions are sometimes referred to as the three “o”s. They are the ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. Sometimes patients have some confusion as to what the differences of these three professions are and what role each profession plays in eye care. I wrote this article to shed some light on these 3 different professions to help clear up some confusion and hopefully answer any questions our patients may have regarding them.


Optometrists are a health care professional who is concerned with the eyes and it’s related structures. They are also concerned about vision, visual symptoms, and the processing of visual information in humans. Optometrists are trained to prescribe and fit lenses to improve vision and in some countries are trained to diagnose and treat various eye diseases.

In Alberta, optometrists not only check for vision prescriptions, but they also can treat a number of problems and diseases. Infections, simple eye injuries, glaucoma, dry eyes, uveitis, and care for diabetic symptoms that can manifest in the eyes are just a few things that an optometrist can provide care for. Optometrist are considered the front line of care professionals when it comes to vision. They preform routine eye exams, eye care, and refractions (finding an eyeglass prescription). If during a visit to the optometrist, something outside is found which the optometrist does not have the scope of practice to treat, they will often refer the patient to an ophthalmologist or other suitable medical professional.


An ophthalmologist, is a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in both eye care and vision symptoms. Ophthalmologists are trained to preform eye exams, diagnose and treat eye diseases, prescribe medications, and perform eye surgeries. In Alberta, many ophthalmologist do not do refractions. They will ask for the patient to return back to their optometrist to get this done.

In Alberta, in order to see an ophthalmologists, a patient must have a referral from an optometrist, family doctor, or emergency room visit.


An optician or dispensing optician, is a technical partner who designs, fits, and dispenses corrective lenses for the correction of a person’s vision. Opticians determine the specifications of various ophthalmic appliances that will the the necessary correction to a person’s eyesight.

Corrective ophthalmic appliances may be contact lenses, spectacle lenses, low vision aids, or ophthalmic prosthetics to those who are partially sighted. The appliances are mounted either on the eye as contact lenses or in a frame which sits in front of the eyes as a spectacle.

Opticians may work in a variety of settings, such as joint practices, hospitals, labs, eye care clinics or retail stores. However, registered opticians have to meet standards to practice and training, commit to on-going education, hold professional liability insurance and are held to standards set forth by their respective regulating body.

Article Written By: Karen McAulay

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