What Is The Difference Between Ophthalmologist, Optometrist, Optician And Orthoptist?

The 4 O’s

So now you have come here because you are absolutely confused with the difference between an ophthalmologist, optometrist, optician and orthoptist. 

Well, to start off you need to know that all four of them are often collectively known as the eye care professional because their main roles are primarily concerned with the human eyes and vision despite the main difference in their respective scope of practice. For the sake of simplicity, I would not delve too much into each of them but give you a general picture of their fundamental difference.


They are medically trained doctor who subsequently specialize in the human eyes. And it takes one ages to finally qualify as an ophthalmologist. Their primary role revolves around the treatment of eye diseases and problems that affect the surrounding structures of the eyes. You could regard them as the equivalence of Greek Gods.


Now before we proceed on…

Disclaimer: Not Very Applicable in North America

Due to my background as an optometry student in the UK who comes from Malaysia, what I am gonna write is really only applicable and close to reality for countries like Malaysia, Singapore, the Uk, Australia, New Zealand etc. due to the incredible discrepancy in the scope of practice and level of training between different countries.

So an optometrist is a primary eye care practitioner, meaning that they are actively involved in identifying eye diseases like cataract and glaucoma by carrying out routine eye examination. They fit perfectly well in primary health care as they make sure eye anomalies are nipped in their bud before they become a real problem. In practice, they identify your prescription (refractive error) as part of a comprehensive eye examination and also qualified to fit you with contact lenses if you require them. Think of them as those cute angels who protect your eyes and vision.


Opticians (also known as dispensing opticians) are very important when it comes to dispensing glasses. They are there to give you advice like frame selection, lens type and lens treatment based on your prescription and lifestyle. Opticians who undergo extra training are allowed to dispense contact lenses as part of their job. Without someone like them to dispense you properly, especially if you’ve got high prescription, you’ll wind up with dodgy prescription glasses. Think of them as a mechanic carrying tools around.


This is possibly the most unheard of one of all the 4 O’s. For the uninitiated, there’s no tertiary institution that offers a degree in orthoptic in its own right in both Malaysia and Singapore. However, there are several universities in the UK like University of Sheffield and Glasgow Caledonian University that do offer the programme. Orthoptists are professionals who deal with binocular vision. They are there to make sure your eyes are working together to enable a single fused vision.

Final word: This is by no means an exhaustive list of what the aforementioned professionals do but at least it gives you a general idea of their respective main scopes of practice. Because each of them is important in their respective roles and I could have written away a full lengthy blog post just on what they do, I’ll devote some future posts to each of them.

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