How to Become an Optometrist

Stephen Glasser is an optometrist in Washington, DC. He has practiced optometry since 1976. Stephen earned both his Bachelor of Science and his Doctor of Optometry at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia. He is currently a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and has served as the president of both the Optometric Society of the District of Columbia and the Optometric Center of the National Capital Region. In addition, Stephen has served as chairman for the Optometric Council of the National Capital Region, and as a member of the Board of Directors of Vision Service Plan.

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist is a medical professional who examines and tests the eyes for infection, disease and visual disorders; treating by the prescribing of corrective lenses, vision therapy or medications.

Why did you decide to become an optometrist?

Truth be told, when I went to my family optometrist, as a child, it was the first doctor who didn’t give me a shot or want to use a drill, and I came away feeling (and seeing) better when I left than when I arrived. That sparked my interest, which has never faded since.

Are there common misconceptions about your profession?

That optometrists are unable to treat eye infections and disease. Optometrists can treat all types of eye infections and diseases, including the prescribing of medication, but are not licensed to perform major surgical procedures. The situation is similar in other countries as well, as the website of one Calgary optometrist shows.

What is a typical day like for you?

Practicing in an urban setting, my day begins at 8 a.m. when my first patients arrive. From treatment of infections to examination for contact lenses and eyeglass lenses, one certain statement can be made. It’s never the same day twice and it is never boring. We close the office at 4 p.m., again, due to the fact that we are in an urban business area. We have alternating Saturday morning office hours.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?

When a patient is shown how well they are capable of seeing, using either glasses or contacts, and you see their face light up, you realize that you are not just changing how well a person sees, but their quality of life.

What are your least favorite aspects of your job?

Probably the billing of insurance companies and third party providers. Too much paperwork.

Is there anything you would have done differently while studying to become an optometrist?

I would pay more attention to the business aspects of running a practice. While it is the medical side we are trained for, the running of a practice is both academic and practical as well.

What classes did you take in college that are the most relevant to your job?

Definitely math and biological sciences.

What personality traits do you think would help someone to be successful as an optometrist?

I would think that someone who has both an outgoing personality and a desire to help with the medical treatment for the betterment of others are essential.

What personality traits do you think might hinder someone’s success as an optometrist?

Someone whose personality does not allow them to understand and empathize with others. Also, someone who has an aversion to the sight of blood or infection.

What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become an optometrist?

The eyes are part of the body. This is not like fixing a toaster. There are aspects of certainty (visual acuity and test measurements) as well as psychological abilities of the individual that need to be taken into account. With that, study topics are essential, but so is an understanding of the needs of the individual as well.