How to become an optometrist

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist is a highly-trained eye specialist, sometimes loosely referred to as an optician - this can be misleading, as opticians specialise in eye-care equipment, and work from the prescriptions written by optometrists. Though not a medical practitioner, optometrists have the responsibility of recognising and treating common eye conditions, as well as prescribing vision aids and recommending eye-strengthening exercises and vision therapy. They are also able to identify more serious optical diseases, such as glaucoma or cataracts, and can refer patients to a doctor.

Should I become an optometrist?

If you have a keen interest in optometry, or would like to pursue a career in the healthcare industry, there are many reasons to consider a career in optometry. You may be suited to this line of work if you have a scientific background, strong interpersonal skills and a keen eye for details.

While working as an optometrist, you can expect:

  • An interactive, customer-facing role
  • Administration and planning of daily clinic tasks
  • Retail-focused duties around sales of spectacles and vision care products
  • A flexible career path with a variety of job opportunities
  • Option to own or manage your own practice

A career in this field has many benefits, including increasing employability. Due to a growing and aging global population, the demand for eyecare professionals is increasing, meaning there are more jobs in this industry than ever before.

Steps to becoming an optometrist

Qualifying as an optometrist is slightly more involved than simply getting a degree.

That being considered, there are four main steps to becoming an optometrist:

  • 1. A Levels or equivalent
    Most degrees related to this line of work will have specific entry requirements. Recommendations for a relevant degree are three A Levels, graded AAB, including two in Maths, Biology, Physics or Chemistry. You will also need an overall IELTS score of 7.0, with at least minimum of 6.5 in each component.
  • 4. Work-based assessments
    After your pre-registration year, you will be required to pass the College of Optometrists’ GOC work-based and final assessments. This is the stage that will allow you to register as an optometrist with the GOC.
  • 3. Pre-registration training

    To become a practicing optometrist in the UK, you will need to register with the General Optical Council (GOC), who are the regulator for optical professions. Part of the requirement for this is completing a pre-registration year, which will consist of professionally-supervised training. Within this, there will be opportunities to take on paid internships, so it is important to research employers and roles when preparing for this stage of your qualification.

  • 2. Undergraduate degree

    Before considering which degree to take towards this career goal, it is important to know that it will have to be a General Optical Council-approved qualification, which are available from a number of credited universities. You must have a minimum of a 2:2 BSc degree from an approved provider in a relevant optometry course.

How long does it take to become an optometrist?

  • BSc undergraduate degree – 3 or 4 years
  • Pre-registration training/study – 1 year

Optometrist job profile

Optometry equipment

Read about the duties and skills needed to become an optometrist in the United Kingdom, as well as good advice applicable to any career.

Biology A Level

Student in lab

A Levels are subject-based qualifications, which international students will typically study three or four of over two years. For a successful start to a career in optometry, consider studying an A Level in Biology at Bellerbys. We offer this course at our Brighton campus and it contains elements of biochemistry, physiology and ecology.

Science and Pharmacy Foundation

Student in a lab

Our Foundation programme is a great way to fully immerse yourself in a subject you are passionate about. The Science and Pharmacy Foundation offered at our Brighton campus is a first step towards a career in optometry. During this one-year programme, you will be taught subject specifics such as cell biology and applied statistics, as well as improving your English language level and study skills.

Career progression opportunities for optometrists

This industry allows flexible professional advancement; it is often possible to move between sectors. This means that you can likely pursue any element of the role you develop an interest in while learning on the job.

Potential areas of focused expertise include:

  • Paediatrics
  • Sports vision
  • Vision science research
  • Developing visual aids (i.e. contact lenses)

Educational workplace prospects

Professional development is also a natural feature of this career; as an optometrist you will never stop learning. Once you are registered with the GOC, you will be required to undertake Continuing Education Training (CET) to maintain your relevant practitioner knowledge and remain on the Council register. You can contribute to your CET through a variety of learning activities, consisting of attending lectures and workshops, developing business skills and supervising others in their pre-registration training.

Further study is also encouraged by the GOC, as is training to heighten your level of qualification. The College of Optometrists offers a range of higher qualifications, and you will have the opportunity to undertake extra study and clinical practice.