Optometrist

What does an optometrist do?

Optometrists are primary health care specialists trained to examine the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases or abnormality and problems with general health. They make a diagnosis, offer advice and when necessary prescribe, fit and supply contact lenses or glasses. Some optometrists specialise in a particular clientele or type of treatment.

Tasks of an optometrist typically involve:

  • communicating with patients to get detailed case histories
  • examining the eyes of patients
  • using specialist equipment for diagnosis and testing
  • issuing prescriptions for spectacles or contact lenses
  • fitting and checking prescribed lenses in order to correct vision defects
  • offering advice and reassurance about vision-related matters
  • offering help and advice for patients choosing frames and lenses
  • writing referral communications to doctors
  • liaising with other medical practitioners and sometimes sharing the care of patients with chronic ophthalmic conditions
  • meeting sales targets with regard to selling spectacles or contact lenses
  • undertaking continuing education and training.

Interview with an optometrist

Natalie Joy Paulsen | OPTOMETRIST | Mullers Optometrists

Why did you choose this profession?
At the age of 12, I had my first eye examination and was amazed by all the equipment, lights and lenses. I couldn’t believe what a difference the spectacles made to my vision. It was such an eye-opening experience that I knew I had to pursue it.

What training did you undergo?
First, I studied Optical Dispensing at the University of Technology. It was a three-year diploma and I thought it would entail dealing with eye conditions, but it was more to do with choosing a frame and prescribing the lenses, tints and coatings. So, I decided to study further, which meant moving to Joburg or Durban. I went to the University of Johannesburg and studied for four years to obtain my degree in optometry.

What type of personality is suited to this job?
Someone who is passionate about people. You need to be patient, caring and compassionate, and you need to be highly motivated in order to deal with the everyday challenges that form part of the job.

Is experience as important as formal training?
They are equally important. You need the training in order to diagnose the relative eye conditions and your training is further enhanced by your experience. If you encounter a case that you haven’t dealt with before, it only challenges you to research, thereby extending your training.

Describe a typical day on the job
My main duty is to evaluate patients’ eye health and prescribe the suitable spectacle or contact lens correction. When I am not consulting, I’ll be answering the phone, calling patients, dealing with medical aids and accounts, conducting frame adjustments / repairs and checking stock.

What do you enjoy the most?
The ability to change lives by giving people the gift of clear vision.

What’s been the highlight of your career?
Whist I was a student, we visited rural areas and helped underprivileged communities who have never had spectacles prescribed; an experience I’ll never forget.

Future goals?
To extend my knowledge and open my own practice. I also plan to explore the world of iridology (the study of the iris).

Any advice for people starting out in your profession?
Have confidence in your training and have patience when dealing with patients. Keep up to date with eye-related technology.

Describe your job in three words
Challenging • Rewarding • Interesting

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?

To qualify as an optometrist, it is necessary to obtain a Bachelor of Optometry degree at an approved university or technikon. This course of study combines theoretical learning and practical training. After which, graduates are required to complete an internship. Training combines classroom instruction and clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed optometrist. Those who want to specialise in a particular area of practice will spend an additional year getting advanced clinical training. Optometrists are required to register with the Health Professions Council and Interim National Medical and Dental Council of South Africa before being allowed to practise legally.

WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Biology
• Physical Science

WHERE CAN I STUDY?

Cape Peninsula University of Technology
National Diploma: Optical Dispensing
www.cput.ac.za

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Optometry
www.ukzn.ac.za

University of Johannesburg
Bachelor of Optometry
www.uj.ac.za

University of Limpopo
Bachelor of Optometry
www.ul.ac.za

University of the Free State
Bachelor of Optometry
www.ufs.ac.za

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?

Health Professions Council of South Africa – www.hpcsa.co.za
South African Optometric Association – www.saoa.co.za

Sources:
www.careerplanning.about.com
www.college-optometrists.org
www.prospects.ac.uk