Optometrists examine patients' eyes, test their sight, give advice on visual problems and prescribe and fit spectacles or contact lenses when needed.
They are trained to recognise diseases of the eye, such as glaucoma and cataract, as well as general health conditions such as diabetes.
They refer patients to medical practitioners when necessary, as well as sometimes sharing the care of patients with chronic conditions. Most of these activities involve the use of specialist equipment.
Most optometrists work in high street practices which may be independent or part of a regional or national chain. A smaller number work in hospitals alongside other healthcare professionals such as doctors and orthoptists.
Some optometrists work in academic settings doing research and/or teaching, and also in the optical manufacturing industry.
Optometrists in community practice are typically involved in:
- communicating with patients to get detailed case histories;
- examining the eyes of patients of all ages to detect signs of injury, disease, abnormality or vision defects;
- being aware of signs and symptoms of general health conditions (e.g. diabetes);
- examining eyes and fitting spectacles or contact lenses;
- 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 (CET).
In addition, some optometrists may be involved in:
- managing staff, including dispensing opticians and clerical staff, and training junior staff;
- managing the retail aspects of spectacles, contact lenses and other vision care products;
- administering, organising and planning the development of the practice;
- liaising with sales representatives from vision care product suppliers;
- owning or managing a practice;
- prescribing medicines for people with eye conditions;
- advising NHS England or local clinical commissioning groups on the development of eyecare services.
- There is no set minimum salary for the pre-registration year in private practice but most practices offer salaries ranging from £17,000 to £21,000 per annum.
- Starting salaries for newly qualified optometrists in private practice are typically around £25,000, depending on the employer and location.
- Salaries for those with experience can range from £28,000 to £60,000 plus. Earnings for company directors, partners and sole practitioners depend on business performance.
National Health Service
- Jobs in the NHS as a hospital optometrist are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands. Typical salaries for the pre-registration year start at £18,838 (band 4).
- AfC salaries for qualified optometrists range from £25,783 to £34,530 (band 6).
- AfC specialist optometrists can earn up to £40,558 (band 7) with salaries for consultant optometrists rising to £81,618 (band 8c/8d).
There are additional allowances available for high cost of living areas, e.g. London.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are usually 9.00am to 5.30pm. Optometrists work between 37 and 40 hours per week. They usually work five days a week. In community practice weekend and evening work is common, particularly in the larger chains.
Part-time and temporary locum work is available, often working in a variety of practices.
Career breaks are possible but unless you are intending to take a significant amount of time off you may wish to remain on the General Optical Council (GOC) register. In order to do this you must undertake a certain amount of continuing education and training (CET) during your break. If you wish to come off the GOC register you need to have undertaken a certain amount of CET before you apply to be readmitted.
What to expect
- Private practice work is usually performed in the high street from shop front premises comprising a retail section and private consulting rooms.
- Hospital work is undertaken in consulting rooms in hospital trust buildings.
- Optometrists spend large parts of the day in a fairly small room with no natural light. They have to make close physical contact with people to examine their eyes.
- Self-employment through a franchise, partnership or sole trader operation is possible, usually after some years' experience.
- There is a fairly even gender split within the profession: 56% of optometrists in the UK are female and 44% male (GOC Annual Report).
- Jobs are available throughout the UK in hospitals and all types of practice. Competition for jobs may be greater in the geographical areas surrounding the universities offering optometry degrees.
- Some optometrists prefer to work in different practices throughout the week but for others most work will be undertaken in one location, with some travel to other practice premises in the local area. National travel is usually for training purposes or to attend conferences.
- Optometrists are expected to dress smartly and show high levels of courtesy, professionalism and friendliness.
- Overnight absences from home due to work are rare.
- UK-registered optometrists can find work abroad. Some countries require you to take further examinations.
To qualify as an optometrist, you must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC), the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. In order to do this, you must:
- obtain a degree in optometry approved by the GOC;
- complete 12 to 15 months salaried pre-registration training under the guidance of a GOC registered optometrist;
- pass the GOC final assessment.
The following universities run approved degree courses:
- Anglia Ruskin University;
- Aston University;
- Cardiff University;
- City University;
- Glasgow Caledonian University;
- Plymouth University;
- University of Bradford;
- University of Manchester;
- University of Ulster.
Entry requirements vary between universities but you will usually need high grades, typically a minimum of AAB at A-level, or equivalent, with at least two science subjects. Applications for courses are made via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
Graduates with a degree in a health-related subject (e.g. pharmacology, chemistry, biomedical science), with a 2:1 or above, may also be considered for entry on to an approved undergraduate course. Contact individual institutions for more information.
Degree courses usually last three years full time (four years in Scotland) and are followed by 12 to 15 months salaried pre-registration training.
Before starting the training you will need to find a placement. Training placements are often advertised on:
- university noticeboards;
- the websites of major companies;
- adverts in publications such as Optometry Today (OT) and Optician;
- JCL Consulting, which runs the Centralised Hospital Application Scheme, for those who want to do their pre-registration year in a hospital.
You can also add your details to the Association of Optometrists Pre-Registration Placements database or contact local optometry practices to see whether they are willing to offer training placements. Any optometrist who has been qualified for three years or more can act as a supervisor.
In order to undertake pre-registration training, you must obtain a 2:2 or above from one of the approved courses and have a valid Certificate of Clinical Competency, which is awarded on graduation and is valid for two years.
Trainees whose certificate has expired or who fail to achieve a 2:2 must successfully complete the GOC's Optometry Progression Scheme before entering a pre-registration placement.
The pre-registration period includes a series of assessments and enables trainees to build on the knowledge they have gained at university and apply it to real practice in the workplace. Successful completion of the pre-registration training and final assessment examination allows you to register as an optometrist with the GOC.
The University of Manchester offers a four-year Master of Optometry (MOptom) degree course, which incorporates the pre-registration year. Students who successfully complete this course are fully qualified and able to register as optometrists with the GOC.
You will need:
- excellent communication skills to deal with a wide range of people;
- strong interpersonal skills, with the ability to put anxious patients at ease;
- the ability to understand and apply scientific principles and methods;
- confidence in using complex equipment;
- teamworking skills;
- manual dexterity, precision and accuracy;
- good organisation and administrative skills;
- attention to detail;
- the ability to keep up to date with scientific and technological developments;
- being comfortable working in close proximity to patients;
- patience to carry out repetitive tasks.
Competition for pre-registration positions is high so gaining prior work experience is important. Some students work in practices at weekends.
Some of the larger chains also run summer programmes for students between their second and third year. Visit company websites for details of these schemes.
The General Optical Council (GOC) has further information on a career in optics, and guidance on becoming an optometrist for students with disabilities and health conditions.
Optometrists work in a variety of settings. These include:
- corporate practice;
- independent practice;
- hospital practice;
- the optical industry;
- academic research and teaching.
Large corporate companies, for example Boots Opticians, Specsavers and Vision Express, employ a large proportion of optometrists. There are also many smaller regional chains.
Companies offering laser refractive surgery also employ optometrists in a pre-operative consultation and post-surgical follow-up role.
Those with a strong interest in the medical side of optometry choose to work in hospitals, employed by the National Health Service (NHS).
It is also possible to work in industry for spectacle lens, contact lens and ophthalmic instrument manufacturers, involved in research and development.
Optometrists may also work in industry in a professional services role, giving technical support.
A small number of optometrists are employed by universities and charities. Other employers of optometrists include the NHS as advisers, local government, the army and public health bodies.
Self-employment through a franchise or partnership, or as a sole practitioner, can be particularly attractive to those interested in developing a specialist optometric service.
Look for job vacancies at:
Recruitment agencies also handle vacancies, details of which may be found in the optometry press.
All optometrists practising in the UK must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC), the profession's regulatory body, and be listed on the Opticians Register. They must renew their registration annually in order to practise.
Continuing education and training (CET) is a statutory requirement for continued registration with the GOC.
The GOC's CET scheme is a points-based system, run over a three-year cycle, which ensures optometrists maintain the up-to-date knowledge and skills needed to practise safely throughout their career. CET points may be gained through a variety of learning activities, including attendance at lectures and workshops and distance learning. See MyGOC for details of recording and managing CET.
It is also possible to undertake further study at postgraduate level. See the websites of the approved undergraduate degree providers for details of courses, many of which can be taken part time and via distance learning, including opportunities for research at PhD level.
The College of Optometrists also accredits a range of professional qualifications at postgraduate level:
- Professional Certificate;
- Professional Higher Certificate;
- Professional Diploma.
See their list of accredited courses.
Optometrists can also train to become specialist practitioners following extra study and clinical practice. Once qualified, you must register your specialty, which allows you to perform additional duties, including independent prescribing.
Optometry has a flexible career structure and it is possible to move between sectors and also to combine a number of roles.
Opportunities for career progression within corporate practice can include promotion within the clinical and/or management structure. Transfer between practices may help progression.
Some optometrists choose to go into practice management where salaries may be higher. Responsibility for practice direction and overall business management is usually taken on in addition to the routine work of an optometrist (e.g. sight testing).
It is possible to buy into an optometry practice (franchise or joint venture) so that you have a direct influence on the running of the business.
It is also possible to set up an independent practice, which may be of particular interest to those wanting to develop a specialist optometric service.
Optometrists with an interest in the medical side of optometry can work in a hospital, where their role will vary significantly and rarely involve undertaking a basic eye examination.
There is a defined career structure in the National Health Service (NHS) and optometrists can work their way up from basic optometrist to specialist and principal optometrist and then, ultimately, consultant optometrist.
There are options to specialise in areas such as prescribing optical aids for the partially sighted and pre- and post-operative care. It may also be possible to become involved in the education of ophthalmic nurses and medical students.
Some optometrists choose to develop their career by going into lecturing and research in both the UK and abroad. Some optometrists become involved in supervision of pre-registration students and full training is provided by the College of Optometrists.
There are opportunities to work abroad in countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Canada, where the structure of optometric practice is similar.