The Three O's

There has long been confusion about the respective roles that each of the "Three O's" plays in eye care. It is confusing because we have three words that date back to a dead language and they all start with "OP."

Ophthalmologist or Eye MD:
An ophthalmologist or Eye MD is a physician (Doctor of Medicine, M.D., or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, D.O.) who specializes in the examination and treatment of the eyes.

To become an ophthalmologist, one must attend medical or osteopathic school after college and serve an internship in general medicine. After the internship, the new physician must complete a residency program in ophthalmology which is generally three years long and includes between 5,000 and 15,000 encounters with patients.

Though most Eye MDs practice what is known as "general" or "comprehensive" ophthalmology, some choose to specialize in a particular part of the eye (such as the retina or the muscles around the eye) or type of condition or disease (such as glaucoma). If the ophthalmologist wishes to specialize, he or she often must complete a fellowship of an additional year or more.

Thinking of becoming an ophthalmologist? Click here to learn more

A common misbelief about Eye MDs is that they are not primary eye care providers or that they are more expensive than optometrists. That is simply not true. Eye MDs provide total medical eye care, from performing a check up to managing a complicated disease, often for the same cost.

Eye MDs...

  • Check vision for abnormalities and disease.
  • Prescribe glasses and contact lenses.
  • Treat all eye conditions and disease, including those of the surrounding flesh, bones, and muscle with surgery (conventional and laser surgery), medications, etc.
  • Are trained to diagnose other conditions and illnesses based on symptoms evident in the eyes and refer patients to another appropriate physician for treatment.


An optometrist (Doctor of Optometry or O.D.) is not a medical doctor, but is trained to diagnose eye abnormalities, prescribe, supply, and adjust spectacle and contact lens prescriptions, and treat some types of eye disease.

The optometric education consists of college plus four years in an optometric college, during which time they will have approximately 1,200 patient encounters.

In Oklahoma, the state Legislature passed a law in 1998 allowing optometrists to perform certain surgical procedures with the use of a laser. In 2004, the Legislature voted to allow optometrists to perform any surgery with scalpels which their board (run by optometrists) will allow. Oklahoma is a state which has lowered its standards for surgical care.


An optician fits, adjusts and dispenses eyeglasses that are prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Opticians can not examine the eyes for disorders or prescribe contact lenses, glasses, or medication.