If you want to become an optometrist, a doctor who examines patients’ eyes and prescribes glasses or contact lenses, you’ll need a four-year undergraduate degree followed by four years of optometry school. If you make it through the program, you'll likely be rewarded financially. The median salary for optometrists is $94,990, according to federal data from 2010. There are 21 optometry schools recognized by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.
The Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, offers a traditional four-year program or the scholars program, a year-round program that ends after 36 months. The school offers advanced study certificates in the sub-disciplines of retina study; clinical medicine; anterior segment study; and starting in 2014, contact lenses. Other schools recognized by the association are Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, New England College of Optometry, and the State University of New York.
Illinois College of Optometry, established in 1872, is the largest and oldest college of optometry in the U.S. About 20 percent of optometrists in the U.S. graduate from this school, where more than 600 students are enrolled. Prospective optometrists enrolled at Illinois will gain clinical experience at the Illinois Eye Institute, where 90,000 patients are treated each year for diverse and complex eye-related problems. The entire fourth year calls for hands-on experience at the Eye Institute and school externship sites. Other optometry schools in the Midwest include Indiana University, Michigan College of Optometry, Ohio State University and the University of Missouri.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry was first in the nation in external research project funding with $66,000 in 2012 and second nationwide in annual funding at $7.9 million. The school is one of only three optometry schools with a Vision Science Research Center funded by the National Eye Institute. A UAB optometry graduate flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1992. Other optometry schools in the south include Northeastern State University-Oklahoma College of Optometry; Nova Southeastern University of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee and the University of Houston..
By their fourth year of study, students at the University of California Berkeley optometry school are required to have treated at least 2,000 patients and performed at least 44 contact lens fittings. Two on-campus clinics have 56 examination rooms and there are six Berkeley satellite clinics. In 2012, every Berkeley student passed part two of the national boards, and 98 percent passed part three, better than any school in the nation. Other western optometry schools include Midwestern University Arizona College, Pacific University, Southern California College of Optometry and Western University of Health Sciences.
2016 Salary Information for Optometrists
Optometrists earned a median annual salary of $106,130 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, optometrists earned a 25th percentile salary of $81,480, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $135,180, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 40,200 people were employed in the U.S. as optometrists.