An optometrist, ophthalmologist and an optician are sitting in a bar. Unfortunately, that’s where the joke ends, because nobody knows the difference between them. All have a role in caring for eyes and vision.

An optometrist is a primary eye care provider that earns a professional doctorate after eight years of college and specialized training. They fit and prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They diagnose and treat eye disease and will refer to a specialist or surgeon if the need or desire arises.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that specializes in eye care and eye surgery. The ophthalmologist goes to four years of undergraduate college and then four years of medical school. They are then residency trained in ophthalmology.

An ophthalmologist will see patients by referral or directly, especially if they are a general ophthalmologist. However, if they are a specialist, they usually will need a referral from the regular eye care provider to determine if that is where the patient needs to go.

An optician is not a doctor. However, they are an integral part of the glasses ordering process. The optician is involved in the optical or optical lab after a patient has a prescription for glasses. An optician may go to a one-year trade school or be trained in on the job. The optician is responsible for helping patients select frames and appropriate lens designs.

Dr. Jace Picken is an optometrist at Prairie Vision Center in Wahpeton

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