An optometrist is an eyecare specialist who is qualified to recognise and treat common eye conditions, prescribe vision aids and recognise serious optical diseases. They often work in clinics that offer routine eye tests, and will refer patients to a doctor for more serious treatment.
In the UK, the industry is split into public and private sectors, which provide a diverse range of working environments and varied roles. Outside of typical clinic work, types of optometrist roles include academic, hospital, locum and research professionals. Alternatively, there is the option to work your way up a business to become a partner or work autonomously and become a sole practitioner.
Generally, optometrists cover a variety of jobs within an eye-care clinic. Working in this position, you are likely to be responsible for the following:
Additionally, optometrists are often required to undertake retail and administration tasks within the clinic. This would usually include the supervising sales of spectacles or eye-care products, management of retail-focused finances and organising patient schedules. You may also reach the level where you’ll be responsible for managing and training fellow staff members.
While many other healthcare professions involve long days or unsocial shift times, optometrists are fortunate to benefit from retail industry standards. Generally, someone in this job will work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. The details of this will depend on the clinic or sector you work in, but a 9:00am to 5:30pm day is typical in this line of work.
Working as an optometrist, you will experience a unique blend of a healthcare and retail industry environment. With patients being consulted and treated in private offices, there will be a medical atmosphere, while the sales of eye glasses and vision aids on the shop floor will have a much more commercial feel.
It will be important to have a keen eye when trying to identify anything that could be wrong with your patient. It will also be useful for carrying out administrative tasks in the clinic.
As this is a patient-facing, retail-based role, you will need to be able to talk to people of all ages and backgrounds. You will also need a sympathetic manner to deal with patients’ concerns.
You will likely work closely with a team of other professionals, so will need to collaborate with them to achieve an efficient clinic environment.
This job will require steady physical skills, as you will have the responsibility of examining patient’s potentially sensitive eyes. This will also be needed when administering any medicines or visual aids.
Based on your learned scientific knowledge, you will need to make important decisions with confidence, which could greatly affect a patient's life.
You will have to use a variety of optical tools and special machinery to identify and inspect any potential vision problems your patients may have.
Here at Bellerbys College, we offer multiple pathways to international students that can be a great start to a career in optometry. Our Science and Pharmacy Foundation allows students to focus wholly on the study of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, while our Biology A Level can be taken alongside two or three other subjects for a well-rounded base knowledge. Both courses support students with English language tuition, and provide solid preparation for progression to an optometry degree at university.
Starting salaries for a newly qualified optometrist are typically around £25,000 per annum, though this depends on the employer. Later in the career, with experience, an optometrist can expect to earn between £30,000 and £65,000. This will generally be determined by business performance, as well as professional experience and position.
To get onto a degree this line of work requires, you should have three A Levels, including two in Biology, Maths, Physics or Chemistry – graded AAB – or an equivalent Foundation qualification. You need an overall IELTS score of 7.0, and then a 2:2 BSc degree from an approved university.
After completing the appropriate degree, you will need to register with the General Optical Council (GOC) to become a qualified optometrist. Registering will require a year of occupied pre-registration training and assessments.
Does optometry sound like the career for you? If you’d like to know more about how to get into this line of work, read our helpful guide on how to become an optometrist.
Once qualified, an optometrist will often experience a varied and insightful career. This can involve going down multiple different paths, but generally an optometrist can expect to be constantly expanding their knowledge and learning on the job. This naturally comes with the GOC’s requirement of undertaking Continuing Education and Training (CET), which often encourages optometrists to get involved in further study.
For a career in the public sector – i.e. NHS practices – there's a defined career structure which allows individuals to work their way up from basic optometrist to specialist and principal optometrist and, ultimately, consultant optometrist. Elsewhere, opportunities for career progression can include promotion within the clinical structure. In this case, transfer between practices may help you to progress and eventually, once you have enough clinic experience, you could choose to manage a practice. Alternatively, some optometrists choose to go into lecturing and research.