A Student’s Guide to Optometry Specialties
- The field of optometry is expected to grow by 9% by the year 2030.
- Most optometry subspecialties hold a positive occupational outlook in the near and distant future.
- An aging population and increased risk of ocular disease in the American population present a need for many different types of optometrists.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) offers a range of optometric specialties for optometrists to choose from. As a student, identifying a career path now can help you better prepare for your future.
There are three main types of optometric specialties: primary care, ocular disease, and low vision. Within these categories, there are various subspecialties that focus on specific areas of optometry, requiring varying levels of education and experience.
General Practice Optometry
This is the most common optometry specialty. General practitioners provide comprehensive eye care, which includes vision testing, prescribing glasses and contact lenses, and diagnosing and treating various eye conditions.
While the occupational outlook for general practice optometry is good, competition for jobs may be increasingly strong due to saturation. In fact, this field is expected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030. However, if you plan to look into this path, you may want to evaluate opening a rural practice to garner a larger market share in your area.
To become a general practice optometrist requires 7-8 years of postsecondary education including a bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Optometry (OD).
While this particular specialty may not seem exciting, it’s a profitable business for those who don’t care to spend a lot of time working outside of office hours. A general practice optometrist can make a median salary of roughly $106,000 per year, depending on location and size of practice, without having to worry about being called in for emergency surgery at all hours of the night.
Ocular Disease Optometry
Ocular disease specialists focus on the medical aspects of optometry. They are trained to diagnose, treat, and manage various eye diseases and disorders such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and more.
This specialty requires additional training beyond the standard four years of postsecondary education. An ocular disease optometrist typically completes a one-year residency program after receiving their Doctor of Optometry degree.
The demand for ocular disease specialists is on the rise due to an aging population and the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes. In the past 12 years, the United States has experienced a 25% increase in macular degeneration cases, a 19% increase in cataracts, and a 22% increase in glaucoma.
Because the majority of these cases occur in people over 40, the best chance of a successful practice in this specialty is to be located near a retirement community or city with a large population of seniors.
An ocular disease optometrist can make a median salary of $115,000 per year based on the size of their practice.
Low Vision Optometry
Low vision specialists work with patients who have vision impairments that can’t be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. These patients typically have symptoms like loss of light sensitivity, loss of color vision, loss of visual field, or loss of contrast.
These situations occur for several reasons, including birth defects, aging, disease, or injury. Low vision optometrists use special devices and techniques to help their patients make the most of their remaining vision. This may include magnifying glasses, telescopes, and other low vision aids.
Low vision optometry is a fairly niche market. There are only a few thousand low vision optometrists in the United States, making it a smaller field than other optometric subspecialties.
The demand for low vision optometry is expected to grow due to an aging population and an increase in chronic diseases that cause vision loss. The Occupational Outlook Handbook projects a 16% growth in this field from 2019 to 2029.
A low vision optometrist can make a median salary of $100,000 per year but will need additional education and certification, such as a Fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry or a low vision certificate from the American Board of Optometry.
Pediatric optometrists focus on providing comprehensive eye care for children. This includes routine vision examinations, prescribing corrective lenses, and diagnosing and treating eye conditions that are specific to children.
The demand for pediatric optometrists is expected to grow due to an increase in the number of children with vision problems. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in four school-aged children has a vision problem that can’t be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
While many pediatricians perform very basic eye exams in their offices, pediatric optometrists have additional training and education in performing child-friendly eye exams. They also have a better understanding of the visual development of children and how to treat vision problems that are specific to this age group.
A pediatric optometrist can make a median salary of $100,000 per year, but this field requires additional education and training beyond the standard four years of postsecondary education. A pediatric optometrist typically completes a one- or two- year residency program after graduation.
Sports Vision Optometry
Sports vision specialists focus on helping athletes improve their vision in order to perform better in their sport. This includes prescribing corrective lenses and vision therapy. They help patients protect their eyes and address vision impairments so they remain safe while still increasing performance.
Sports vision optometrists work with all types of athletes, from professional to amateur. They often work with team physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive vision care for their patients.
This type of optometry requires specialized knowledge in traumatic brain injuries like concussions, as well as knowledge of how to properly fit athletes for protective eyewear.
The demand for sports vision optometry is expected to grow due to an increase in the number of people participating in sports and the awareness of the importance of vision in athletics.
Geriatric optometry is a subspecialty that focuses on providing comprehensive eye care for seniors. This includes routine vision examinations, prescribing corrective lenses, and diagnosing and treating age-related eye conditions.
This is a difficult field for many reasons, including the increased risk of eye disease in later stages of life as well as the reduced ability to recover from these conditions. In addition, seniors are more likely to have chronic health conditions that can affect their vision.
Much like ocular disease specialists, the demand for geriatric optometry is expected to grow due to an aging population and an increase in chronic diseases that cause vision loss. The Occupational Outlook Handbook projects a 16% growth in this field from 2019 to 2029.
There are many different optometry specialties to choose from, each with its own unique set of challenges and rewards. But no matter which path you choose, you’ll be helping people see the world more clearly. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.
Book a demo today to see how RevolutionEHR can give you the freedom to focus on your future in the field of optometry.