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Do Not Become an Optometrist

[Edit 8/31/2011: If you came from a search engine, you probably wanted to read my article on How to Become an Optometrist.]

I know there are many young people out there aspiring to become an optometrist. Maybe your sight was bad until one day, like magic, an optometrist outfitted you with glasses and contact lenses and voila’, you saw great. Maybe you think optometrists make a good living and your primary goal is to make a good living with minimal stress and inconvenience to your family life.

Well…kill your romantic notions of what it means to be an optometrist and focus on getting a better job.

First of all, what is the image of an optometrist? Perhaps you think it is overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps all of the optometrists you know have, like a clown, a smile on their face and a funny joke to tell. Trust me, they are crying on the inside.

Speaking of a good joke, have you noticed that every optometrist joke is a bad one. By bad I mean dirty. Trust me, don’t do an internet search for eye doctor jokes unless you like vile, base, worse-than-locker-room jokes. The only two clean optometry jokes aren’t even funny.

Seriously, optometrists have a huge PR problem. When ever we’re mentioned, it’s disparaging. Dave Barry goes to the eye doctor and his devoted fans use the comment section to crack wise. People on the internet view you as worse than used car salesman because you try to convince/sell them on the best (and more expensive) contact lenses and eyewear technologies.

Where is the love for optometrists?! Why can’t people respect their eye health enough to be glad the optometrist wants to dilate their eyes?

Doctor, “Can we dilate your eyes today?”
Most Patients, “No, I’ve got stuff to do today, so I can’t be bothered by with making arrangements once every year (or two or five) to have my eyes dilated. Eye exams should be like haircuts, in-and-out. It’s not like this is healthcare or anything.”

And that’s the problem. People value healthcare, but they don’t recognize that eyecare belongs to healthcare. They’ll pay their primary care physician what it takes to manage their kid’s allergies, but for their kids’ myopia, they’ll go to the big box store instead of the private practice optometric physician. They’ll buy their kid uncoated lenses and a no-name frame which only serves to lower his/her self esteem and get their lunch money robbed.

When I was in undergrad, we had a lecture series for students going into health professions. The doctor told the assembly, “If you want to be a vet that’s fine, but animals don’t pay the bills. People do.”
His point was that when faced with a choice to do an expensive procedure on an animal, they’ll opt for the cheaper option of putting it down; however, humans will pay what it takes to stay alive. The same applies to being an optometrist. Go into a profession where people value your services instead of complaining about the cost. Which is funny because optometry offers the best value for the healthcare dollar (according to Williams Group).

So people value healthcare, but they don’t value eyecare. Which is crazy because eyecare IS part of healthcare. “Vision Insurance” is such a bad thing because it makes people think that their vision is somehow unrelated to their whole body medical care. All eye exams should be under medical insurance, even if their isn’t a “medical diagnosis.” People get routine physicals and check-ups all the time without a specific complaint. Why can’t we do eye exams and be reimbursed by medical insurance without a specific complaint other than making sure our eyes’ health is fine and getting an updated glasses Rx?

I’m sure the dentists don’t mind that they’re not usually under the umbrella of medical insurance coverage. They have nice high fees. People value having a great smile. When the dentist does a filling, does he ask you if you would like the worst, cheapest metal implanted in your teeth? When I went in for a check-up, the dentist handed me a tube of Flouride and said to use this. In my mailed bill, there was a charge of $7. Did I contest it, saying I can’t believe you would charge that amount of money! I could have gotten it on the internet for $5!

Heck no.

So why the grief with eyecare services and products? How come people aren’t willing to pay what it takes for quality eyecare and eyewear?

Probably because there aren’t any big box dentists…yet. But why would the dentist go for the big box. They make good money. Optometrists go to big box because the money is there, right then, cash up front. If I’m new out of school and go to work for another optometrist, I might expect to be paid $50,000. Commercial will offer me $70,000-80,000, or if I own the contract of a busy store, I’ll get $100K+. Why in the world wouldn’t a new grad do commercial? Seriously, the only other alternative worthy of consideration is the Indian Health Service working as a PHS commissioned corps officer. If you do that your entire career, the non-contributory retirement more than makes up for not being paid as high a salary in the early years. The only drawback is living in a remote area, but if you and your family are fine with it, then you’ve got it made. Plus, IHS optometrists get to do real eyecare, not just refractions. If you want to diagnose diabetes and leukemia by looking in people’s eyes, then you want IHS. If you want to wear out your fingers writing prescriptions for eye drops and oral meds, then IHS is for you. If you want a full month of paid vacation, then IHS is for you. The patients actually respect you because they know you take care of their eye problems.

People in the city with an acute eye problem go straight to the OMD. It never even crosses their mind to come see you, the optometrist. Besides, you, an optometrist, are not even on their list of providers to see for medical eyecare because their insurance won’t let you, an optometrist, on their panel.

If the only reason you wanted to be an optometrist is because you want good pay and easy hours, then you are wrong on both counts. Pharmacists get paid just as much, if not more, than most optometrists- and they don’t have to sell stuff. The patients come to them with exactly what they want. Optometrists have had to expand their hours to evenings and weekends. Big box optometrists started it, and private practice copies it to stay competitive.

Do yourself a favor and be a software engineer, pharmacist, or anything else. Optometrists’ lifestyle will only go downhill. You’ll end up working Saturdays and Sundays, and during the week you’ll have to work every day until 7 or 8 PM. The student loans are not worth it. Pharmacists have the same pay without the student loan debt of optometrists. So do salesman. Do something else for your own sanity. You’ll end up poor and bitter. In fact, become an ophthalmic products salesperson. They make as much as the optometrists, and you can sell anything to an optometrist. After all, he/she was duped into becoming an optometrist, so they’ll be easy scores for your over-priced products.

Posted in Optoblog.

67 Responses

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  1. Larry says

    What about the military? There’s no selling there. They have tuition payment programs, so optometrists are apparently in demand.

  2. Sharon L. Davis says

    WOW David, what soured your attitude towards optometry?
    There are many benefits to optometry….being your own boss, owning your business, working in a clean environment, limited emergency calls, helping improve one of the most important of the five senses and it’s painless. (I don’t take two aspirin before I go to my optometrist…I do before I go to my dentist.). I don’t know many people who look forward to a dental appointment. You mentioned dentists aren’t in “big boxes” – several years ago “big boxes tried to offer dental services, people just didn’t want to go to a “big box” for dental care (perhaps they didn’t want their vocal cry of pain heard by the shopping public). Your mentioned that optometry has a serious PR problem, I agree, vision care should be stressed much more. According to a US study done many years, (I am orry I do not have the article to reference the date, etc.) approxiimately 80% of those in prison had UNcorrected vision problems in elementary school. For those who want someone else to handle the staffing and PR of their practice, perhaps commerical (“big box”) optometry is the right answer but it is not for everyone nor is the “service” provided by the “big box”. You mentioned that optometry should be considered healthcare….I agree with you, it should be; however, dental care is important, many health related problems occur due to poor dental care and yet, dental care is not considered “healthcare” under a standard healthcare program (a person has to buy a dental coverage plan the same as buyinig a vision care plan).

    As with any profession, there are pros and cons….undergraduate students should put serious thought and actions into the career choices, know what is really expected and options available.

    Your blog had mixed messages but I ASSUME you attended optometry school and are frustrated with where you are now; Seek assistance by attended local and state associations and express your thoughts, you will probably find answered.

  3. Kj says

    I disagree with most of the blog. I think optometry is great. I graduated from optometry school last year. I work private practice 8-5 mon thru fri and make 98000. I think it’s the prefect career. What more could you ask for

  4. Elaine says

    Totally agree. Especially in a developing country like Malaysia, it’s an occupation that is not respected at all.Ophthalmologist are treating ocular diseases, Orthoptist works on binocular vision problem, Optician are allowed to precribe glasses and contact lenses, In malaysia optometrist are even not allowed to use dilatation and cycloplegic drops for diagnostic prupose without medical doctors prescription. I wonder what’s the purpose of optometry to exist?

  5. Eric L says

    Wow. This is so interesting. Please allow me to drop my opinion on this matter.

    Quick Background: These are job titles that I have held over the years. Bank Manager, Tech Recruiter, Director of HR for dotbomb, Tech Sales, Fine Dining Restaurant Owner, and Mortgage Banker. I hold a BS in Management. My nephew is an MD. My sister-in-law is a Pharmacist. My wife and niece will both be OD this year.

    I have seen software engineers work around the clock and actually sleep in their cubicles. My best buddy works for a tech company, and he works from home. You’d think it’s great but he works pretty much from 7am to 10pm at night. He never actually leaves his work behind and go home like most. My sister in law has to stand all day, and Walgreens supposedly removed all the chairs so that they can’t sit. My nephew is bitter about his line of work as an MD. He makes 200k per yr but he thinks he should have gone to Harvard B school. I used to make $100 per hour as a tech recruiter but engineers think of us as fleas. I saw an MD ran across the street to deliver a baby and came back to her dinner table with her family at my restaurant. I can’t imagine that was fun for her or her kids.

    It’s true the market for OD is tough and especially in CA. But I have seen many different fields, and it all boils down to “doing what you love”. You have to wake up feeling good about going to your line of work. Don’t get into this for the money. Get into this if you enjoy being around that environment. When you shadow, that’s when you need to think for yourself if this is what you will enjoy waking up to. If you are good at what you do, the money will be there. My wife loves being around this profession, and she is fully aware of the tough job market. She doesnt care. She has a skillset and is also a mother. She might work full time or part time. But I’ll be there to support her student loan.

  6. OptimetristWannaBe says

    Since third grade, my dream has been “to become an optometrist”. I’ve considered other jobs, but optometry has always seemed right for me and I always came back to it. Although I maybe young and “don’t understand real life stuff”, you seem like a real downer. I haven’t had time to read the whole article and comments (I will tomorrow) and some of your points are legit ament, your blog seems to make the reputation of an optometrist much worse. I have never even realized people had these negative feelings toward optometrists until I researched “How To Become An Optometrist” and your link popped up. Thousands of people have seen this website who may have dreamed of becoming an optometrist and never realized the negative parts of being an optimetrist and now you have ruined it for them. Sorry to offend you but you are just making the situation incredibly worse by making this blog. Also, there are many downsides to every job, your just naming the downsides of an optometrist. Why don’t you try naming the bad things about being a teacher, a dentist, a police officer, or a lawyer? I’m sure you’ll find many downsides to these jobs too.

    And does optometry school really cost that much money? If so, I didn’t realize that.

    I also am concerned about bein able to find a job in the area I live in, and I am not sure if I should start my own private practice or work for the government?…help? ThAnks!

  7. futureoptometrist says

    wow….you need to grow up. You OBVIOUSLY know NOTHING about optometry. Do some more research before attempting to bash other people’s dreams in becoming an optometrist. Seriously, you know nothing. Also why would you even use the concept of “jokes” to support your argument? Since when are healthcare careers based on how funny they can make jokes out of their jobs?

  8. GregS says

    Dude, you have a lot of issues, its no where near that bad for optometry, I make 200,000+ as an employed optometrist and I work in a medical setting. Either you were a bad businessman, severely lack skill and personality, or you are a Troll. Either way you need a psychiatrist, I feel sorry for you that you feel the need to fill you day with this baseless BS.

    Thanks for advising all of us ;you must really care so much for others.I don’t regret my choice to be an optometrist, in fact I’m happier than my brother who is a gastroenterologist!

  9. GregS says

    I might have guessed that you were a Walmart Optometrist! have a great life!

    • Ren Aldo says

      Best OD recuitment site yet! Great idea! Thanks. You have shown why OD’s have the best of all worlds.

  10. Brennon says

    This whole blog is absurd. Who started this anyway?! People should choose and become whatever they please. I have worked in a respectable career for years, and I am not even happy. I did not become an OD like planned. Instead, I went into finance/banking and danced around compliance and operations because I was good at it. I still feel empty and bored.

    Word to the wise: do what you think would make you happy. And as my mother always says: let someone else tell you “no.” Meaning, put the effort forth and try your hardest. If you are unable succeed and you can find a job or success as you expected, then try something else. But don’t shy away because of rumors or negative thoughts about the money or long hours. You never know what specific job/company you’ll find within the field. It might be different for you than the rest.

    For the person who created the first comment, I don’t know what to say. You have not done your research. ODs don’t just work in a private office. Some work in research or in hospitals dealing with eye trauma, eye disease, and eye therapy. Did you know that? Optometry is not just about eye exams and contacts!!!!! I am actually en route to embark upon studying to become an OD. I regret not having done so earlier in life due to negative people steering me away from sciences (ohhh it’s too hard)….or from loans (you’ll pay it back your whole life). I am actually good at sciences and already have student loans. So, I shouldn’t just done it. Yet, I am wasting my life being unhappy and wondering what if. I make a nice salary as an AVP of Operations, but money isn’t everything. Some people have a thing for helping others get better. You can do anything to which you set your heart.. Follow your heart

  11. LoveMyJob says

    Dave– as an Optometrist for 20 years I could not agree with you more. The only optometrists I have known who make big bucks do so by overselling and insurance fraud (and there are plenty of them.) I currently work for IHS and love it! The VA pays a lot better, but you are usually working in marginal neighborhoods.
    You kids out there who have not even graduated would do well to listen to those who have. I had no idea how difficult it was to find a decent job until after my Residency.

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Written by David Langford, O.D.

David Langford is a graduate of PUCO 2003, worked as a federal service optometrist, then as fill-in commercial, then solo private practice, and now works full time in his favorite modality: independent doctor of optometry inside a Wal-Mart Vision Center.

David Langford, O.D. has written 423 posts on

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