Topic Overview

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in eye care. Ophthalmology is a surgical subspecialty. Ophthalmologists are licensed by provincial medical boards to practice medicine and are certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Ophthalmologists are certified to:

  • Diagnose and treat all forms of eye disease.
  • Prescribe and administer diagnostic and therapeutic drugs.
  • Prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Treat eye injuries.
  • Perform surgery on the eye.

Optometrists (ODs) have at least 3 years of undergraduate science work and may have a 4-year degree. They attend 4 years of optometric college. They are not medical doctors. In most provinces, optometrists cannot diagnose or treat eye diseases or prescribe therapeutic drugs. Optometrists can:

  • Diagnose refractive errors and prescribe corrective lenses.
  • Detect signs of disease and refer you to an ophthalmologist.
  • Administer diagnostic drugs.

Opticians are skilled technicians. They do not test vision, prescribe corrective lenses, or diagnose or treat eye diseases. All provinces require completion of a 1- to 4-year training program. Opticians can complete more training to become licensed to test vision and fit contact lenses. Opticians can:

  • Fill prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Help you select appropriate eyeglass frames and measure the eyes to ensure a proper fit.
  • Fit eyeglass lenses into frames.
  • Adjust eyeglass frames for comfort and proper lens position.
  • Clean and polish contact lenses.

Making the choice

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists can diagnose refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, and prescribe corrective lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses.

Ophthalmologists can diagnose all disorders that affect the eye. They can carry out any medical or surgical treatment.

In a few provinces, even where they are allowed to administer diagnostic drugs, optometrists are not allowed to diagnose or treat eye disease. They may observe signs of disease and refer you to an ophthalmologist.

In some provinces, optometrist's fees may be covered depending on your age and whether or not you have medical problems. Ophthalmologists' fees are covered by your provincial health insurance plan, although there may be costs you have to pay yourself.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology

Current as ofAugust 21, 2015