Optometrists, Orthoptists and Opthalmologists all work in the field of eye care and often work as a team in the same practice. These various professional “categories” can cause quite a lot of confusion though. Not only do they sound similar but some of their roles can overlap, thus making the differentiation even harder.
One great example is that all these experts can recommend glasses
In this article, I will aim to overview the role of each specialty and so make it easier to identify who does what!
The levels of training and what they are permitted to do for you as a patient are an important differentiator between these specialties. It will definitely help you make the best-informed decision when looking for help regarding your specific eye care issue.
In South Africa, Optometrists need to complete a four-year Bachelor of Optometry degree before they are permitted to practice.
Once qualified, they provide vital primary vision care. They conduct vision tests and eye examinations on patients in order to detect visual errors, such as near-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism.
Optometrists also do testing to determine the patient's ability to focus and coordinate their eyes, judge depth perception, and see colors accurately.
Once a visual ‘problem’ has been identified andanalyzed, the optometristeffectively corrects them and their related problems, by providing comfortable glasses and or contact lenses. They are also responsible for the maintenance of these “devices”.
Optometrists also play an important role in the diagnosis and rehabilitation of patients suffering from Low-vision.
Those optometrists who have completed the HPCSA-approved Post Graduate Certificate in Ocular Therapeutics, may prescribe medications which have been approved by the Medical Control Council. These include various antibiotic and antiviral drops and certain glaucoma medications.
WHAT ON EARTH IS AN ORTHOPIST? DO YOU KNOW?
An orthoptist in South Africa, needs to complete a two-year Diploma in Advanced Orthoptics and Binocular Vision before being allowed to work.
Orthoptists are experts in the diagnosis and non-surgical management of squints (strabismus), lazy eyes (amblyopia) and neurological disorders of eye movement (e.g. nystagmus).They can identify whether the patient’s eyes are working together as a pair (binocular vision) or not, and manage this condition.
They assist in the assessment of special needs and patient counseling, and commonly work with people suffering from neurological conditions, such as stroke, brain tumours and multiple sclerosis.
Treatments used range from eye patches and eye exercises to prisms and glasses.
It takes approximately 14 years of study to become an opthalmologist
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has specialised in eye and vision care.
Typical training in South Africa includes a six-year Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree followed by internship and Community Service,and then a four-year post-graduate specialization in the surgical and non-surgical care of the eye and the many conditions that can affect it.
Some ophthalmologists study further in a specific area of medical or surgical interest. He or she usually completes one or two years of additional, more in-depth training, called a Fellowship, in one of the main subspecialty fields such as Paediatrics.
An ophthalmologist , diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and can prescribe spectacles and contact lenses. Because they are medical doctors, ophthalmologists can also identify other health issues that are not directly related to the eye and refer those patients to the right medical doctors for treatment.
I hope that this information has gone some way in demystifying the differences between these professionals.
All these professionals compliment one another and come together to form the paediatric eye care team.
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Eye Care Jargon
- American Academy of Ohthalmology.org. “What is an ophthalmologist?” by Jennifer Churchill and Dan T. Gudgel. 18 Jan 2019
- South African Optometry Association.co.za
- Health Professions Act, 1974 (Act 56 of 1974). Government Gazette 5 April 2007, p.8
- “Recognition of Ocular Therapeutics in Optometry”. Vision magazine online.co.za 2017, byProf. Paul Ramkissoon.
- McCarry, B (1999). "Orthoptists' Current Shared Care Role in Ophthalmology". Br Orthopt J. 56: 11–18.
- K.Fitzmaurice, H Maclean "A Method of Assessing Visual Performance Applicable to Multi-Handicapped Children." Trans. IXth IOC, 1999 Ed.Cynthia Pritchard, Marli Kohler, Dagmar Verlohr, p 111-5.
- Fowler, MS (1991). "Orthoptic Investigation of Neurological Patients Undergoing Rehabilitation". Br Orthopt J. 48: 2–7.
- Royalfree.nhs.uk. “What does an orthoptist do?” July 2019