When to See Your Ophthalmologist vs. Your Optometrist

An optometrist or ophthalmologist giving a routine eye exam

Here at Campus Eye Center, our practice includes both ophthalmologists and optometrists who comprehensively address the eye health needs and vision concerns of our valued Lancaster-area patients. But, what is the difference between these two distinct vision care fields?

It’s true that because the words “ophthalmologist” and “optometrist” sound somewhat similar, people sometimes do not realize that they are actually different eye-focused healthcare specialist roles.

Additionally, this also means that confusion sometimes surrounds the fact that many people need to see both types of eye care professionals regularly. So, when should you see an ophthalmologist versus an optometrist? Today’s blog post gives you some background on both fields, as well as how to know when to consult each.

The good news is that when you work with our highly experienced team here at Campus Eye Center, we will take the lead on helping you decide the best eye doctor for your needs at any given time. And, our entire staff of board-certified ophthalmologists, optometrists, nurses, technicians, and other professionals works closely together to coordinate patient care to achieve the best results.

The Differences Between Optometry and Ophthalmology

There are two big ways that optometrists and ophthalmologists differ—in training levels and what each is permitted to do for patients based on that specific training. Both professionals are called “doctor,” but ophthalmologists will have completed many more years of schooling than optometrists. Here’s what you need to know.

Training and Educational Backgrounds


By the time they go into practice, ophthalmologists will have completed 12-13 years of post-secondary schooling, including internships and residencies required to earn a medical degree.

With their advanced training—which may also include fellowships to help them sub-specialize and become experts in specific conditions or serving different groups of patients, like children or seniors—comes an ability to diagnose and treat all types of eye disease and perform eye surgeries.


Following a typical 4-year undergraduate course of study at a college or university, optometrists complete 4 years of professional education at a college of optometry, where they are granted the doctor of optometry (O.D.) degree. This degree gives optometrists that ability to:

  • perform eye exams and vision testing
  • prescribe and dispense corrective lenses, aka glasses and contacts
  • detect certain eye abnormalities
  • prescribe medications for certain eye diseases

Treatment Areas

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists concern themselves with your eye health and good vision, and their treatment areas definitely overlap. Of course, with their advanced medical training, ophthalmologists have broader surgical privileges and may be more qualified to help you treat and manage eye disease. Often, optometrists are more on the “front lines” of vision care, however—these are the doctors you will typically see first when you have eye health concerns, and they will recommend you to an ophthalmologist if you require more specialized care.

When Should You See an Optometrist?

The short answer to this question is at least yearly—even if you don’t wear glasses or contact lenses today. Optometrists have many advanced tools at their disposal to assess your eyes’ overall health and ensure that hidden issues aren’t present.

Additionally, if your optometrist does discover signs of eye disease or problems, they can help with treatment options or refer you to an ophthalmologist for further investigation and care. As we already mentioned, this is the main reason why you should consider visiting a vision care practice like ours here at Campus Eye Center where both optometrists and ophthalmologists are on staff and working in coordination with each other to meet all of your eye healthcare needs.

When Should You See an Ophthalmologist?

Because they diagnose and treat eye disease, visiting an ophthalmologist is critical if you are having any symptoms of common eye conditions, including glaucoma and cataracts. Further, if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, ophthalmologists can help you manage eye problems that often accompany that disease, such as diabetic retinopathy.

If you are over age 40, even if you do not have a family history of eye disease, it may be wise to check in with an ophthalmologist to ensure that your eyes are aging normally, as issues like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) begin to crop up. Of course, your optometrist can also spot many of these concerns during routine eye exams and may refer you to an ophthalmologist for treatment/management. This is why we cannot stress enough that regular eye care is so important.

Choosing An Eye Care Professional Who is Right for You

Often, finding the right eye doctor—whether it’s an ophthalmologist or optometrist—for your unique concerns is a bit of a trial and error process. This is why seeking practices with multiple providers is often a good idea when you’re unsure about who might best help you.

Like other types of healthcare professionals you see regularly, you need to find a practitioner who is not only capable but who you feel comfortable with. After all, if you choose an eye doctor whose personality does not mesh well with your own, you will be less likely to keep up with regular preventive checkups because you won’t enjoy your experience in the office.

Campus Eye Center is Central PA’s Most Complete Eye Care Practice

Whether you are managing a specific eye disease or need to find a caring eye doctor for your child’s first eye exam, our highly trained and compassionate providers are ready to help at either of our conveniently located offices in Lancaster and Willow Street, PA. To make an appointment now, get in touch with the Campus Eye Center office of your choice.