You might think optometrists spend their lives lazily pointing to eye charts before jamming a pair of thick glasses on their patient, or you might not have the foggiest idea what an optometrist actually does. It’s time to get educated.
For starters, optometry is a healthcare profession which is all about the eyes, with optometrists being the first port of call for people with eye problems.
Optometrists are healthcare professionals trained to examine eyes to detect defects in vision and ocular diseases, such as glaucoma and conjunctivitis. They are the Dr Houses of the eye world: just by looking into someone’s eyes, optometrists can suss out whether that person has certain health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
They also help the visually challenged to see by conducting eye tests, prescribing lenses, therapy or eye exercises.
Before you start sharpening your scalpel, optometrists don’t perform medical and surgical procedures, although prescribing optometrists can prescribe medication for certain eye-related ailments. They can be found working in high street opticians, hospitals, eye clinics and other healthcare facilities.
Salary & benefits
During the pre-registration year (e.g. the vocational based training), trainee optometrist might earn between £15,000 and £17,500. Working in private practices, salaries for newly qualified optometrist range between £19,500 and £28,000 a year.
With experience, salaries can rise to between £37,500 and £53,000. Some optometrists go on to become partners, company directors or sole practitioner of a practice.
Unlike dentistry, the potential for earnings in the NHS is considerably higher than private practice. Pre-registration optometrists are paid on average £18,000, rising to between £24,000 and £34,000 once qualified.
With more experience, optometrists can earn between £30,000 and £55,000 and consultant optometrists take home salaries ranging between £54,000 and £80,000. If optometrists go on to open their own practice and sell folding reading glasses alongside their expertise, earnings could skyrocket!
Unlike other healthcare professionals, working hours are pretty regular. Most optometrists work nine-to-five jobs, averaging between 36 and 39 hours of work a week.
If you’re claustrophobic, optometry might not be the profession for you. Optometrists spend most of their days in fairly small consulting rooms with no natural light.
Practice isn’t just limited to the UK. Some optometrists choose to ply their trade abroad in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where, due to the similarity in optometric practice, not much further training is required.
The profession is governed and regulated by the General Optical Council (GOC). If you want to become an optometrist, you’ll need grades B and above in mathematics and science subjects at A-Levels to apply for a GOC-accredited degree in optometry.
There are only nine universities that offer optometry degree courses in the UK, so your choice of university is pretty limited. Most universities will be looking for AAB at A level. Graduates with 2.1s or above in a health-related degree might be considered for entry on to an approved undergraduate course.
A good candidate will need top notch communication, organisational and interpersonal skills. They should have a solid understanding of scientific principles and methods, be good with their hands and using technical equipment, and not feel uncomfortable getting up close and personal with patients (not in that way…).
Training & progression
It’s a long road to becoming a qualified optometrist. After obtaining a degree in optometry and a Certificate of Clinical Competency, you’ll need to apply for the optometrist training scheme or pre-registration year. During the pre-registration year, you’ll complete supervised work experience and various exams before finally qualifying as an optometrist.
Training doesn’t stop once you’ve qualified. Every year, optometrists must renew their registration with GOC and take part in the CET scheme, which makes sure optometrists keep up to date with all the latest knowledge and skills.
Like dentists, optometrists can progress to managing and running practices, or even setting up their own, whilst those working in hospitals can rise up the ranks to become consultant optometrists.
Optometrists can go on to specialise in certain areas and some train to become prescribing optometrists.