How To Become an Optometrist in the United States
Updated: Aug 17
How do you become an optometrist in the United States?
In this video, I share with you a step-by-step process on exactly how to become an optometrist including a couple of tips on how to best approach your optometric journey.
I've been practicing optometry for over ten years and have learned a lot along the way.
Below is a high-level overview of the steps you need to take to become a practicing optometrist in the United States.
Learn about optometry before committing to becoming an optometrist
I highly recommend you do research on the profession of optometry before investing in the degree.
Work in an optometry practice and see what it's like from a day-to-day perspective.
If you’re unable to get a job in a practice, shadow an optometrist.
Search the internet for quality optometry content. Here are a few resources I recommend you check out:
RELATED: Why I Became an Optometrist
Take the necessary undergraduate prerequisite courses
Make sure that you take the right prerequisite courses for the optometry school that you want to go to.
All optometry schools require that you take basic science courses. Unfortunately, every school's curriculum criteria are a little bit different.
The easiest way to meet this criterion is to get an undergraduate degree in biological sciences with a pre-med or pre-optometry tracking.
Another approach is to get a degree in an area of interest (i.e. business, philosophy, etc.) and use your electives to meet this criterion. It often takes more than four years to do this but is a great way to gain relevant knowledge for future endeavors (i.e. practice ownership).
Take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT)
Optometry school candidates have to take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT). Like the MCAT for medical school or DAT for dental school, the OAT is the standardized test used to assess your potential for success.
The OAT consists of four tests on the following:
Survey of the Natural Sciences
The OAT is a computerized test that you'll take at Prometric testing centers. As a result, you can take it year-round and easily retake it if you find that you don't score exactly where you’d like to be.
The exam is scored between 200 to 400. The higher the score, the better off you did.
Research optometry schools and apply
There are 23 schools and colleges of optometry across the United States. Personally, I went to The Ohio State University College of Optometry and am very happy with my education and experience.
The nice thing about applying to optometry school now is that it can all be done via OptomCAS, the Optometry Centralized Application Service.
Research optometry school financing
I got news for you, optometry school is not free or cheap. As a result, you’ll want to look into financial aid to finance optometry school.
Most people that become an optometrist get financial aid. Also, there are grants and scholarships that are available so look into these as well.
Pro tip - Think about what it's going to cost you to become an optometrist and calculate what your return on investment will look like.
Go to optometry school
Once you get into optometry school and you understand what your financial aid looks like, you're going to select one school to go to. Getting to this point is a journey in itself so celebrate getting to this process.
You're going to go to that optometry school and you're going to have an incredible experience. These will be four amazing years of your life where you build lifelong friendships.
You'll learn more than you ever thought you could about the human eye and visual system as well as the human body and how it all interconnects.
Fourth year of optometry school is fully clinical and you'll experience patient care in various settings and subspecialties. Embrace the journey. It goes by quickly and is a wild ride.
Take and pass all 3 parts of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO)
To practice optometry in the United States, you have to take and pass all three parts of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). This is often done during your third and fourth year of optometry school.
A lot of optometry students utilize KMK optometry board review courses to study and prepare for each board. Of course, your optometry school curriculum prepares you well.
If you don't pass, take it again and again until you do. I know a number of wonderful optometrists that failed various parts of NBEO that are thriving today!
Consider an optometric residency
This is an optional step because during your fourth year of optometry school you gain all the clinical knowledge and experience required to start practicing as an optometrist.
However, I can tell you that I did an optometric residency and found the experience truly invaluable. I made lifelong friendships and gained a lot of awesome experience in a high-volume ocular disease setting.
If you want to specialize in a certain area of optometry or you want to keep doors open to work in the VAMC, academia, or industry, it's a great idea to do a residency. It's an additional year but it's highly valuable and something to consider.
Disclaimer - Residency isn’t for everyone so don’t stress about having to do one. If you don't go this route, you’ll still be a fantastic optometrist.
RELATED: Is an Optometry Residency Worth It?
Get licensed in the state you want to practice
Figure out where you want to practice and get licensed to practice optometry in that state.
To practice optometry, some states have a lot more hoops to jump through than others. As a result, I highly recommend you look into the licensure process if you already know where you want to practice optometry after optometry school.
Pro tip - if you’re looking to eventually practice in a state that you know is difficult to become licensed in, do so right after graduating as it’s unlikely you’ll want to go through that process after practicing a while.
Final thoughts on how to become an optometrist in the USA
Enjoy the process of becoming an optometrist. Yes, it’s a lot of work and can be stressful, but it’s a wonderful profession that continues to evolve over time.
What questions do you have about becoming an optometrist in the USA? Reach out and let me know. I'm happy to answer them and be a resource for you on your optometric journey.
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