6 optometry career options (With duties and salaries)

Updated 30 June 2023

The field of optometry involves the examination of people's eyes and vision to detect irregularities or damage. There are different career options within this field, from dispensing glasses to monitoring eye diseases. If the field of optometry interests you, knowing about the various career options can help you identify the right choice for you. In this article, you'll discover what optometry is, a list of six optometry career options and the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.

What is an optometry career?

An optometry career is primarily concerned with eye health. It involves the study of the eyes, their function, related structures and the quality of a person's vision. Practitioners of optometry are optometrists, whose primary concerns are eye health and people's vision. They can assess a person's visual requirements, measure their eyesight and check for eye diseases. Optometrists also know which glasses or contact lenses to prescribe someone based on their requirements, including cosmetic lenses for those with scarring in their eyes.

Related: Guide to an optometrist degree (with job prospects and FAQs)

6 optometry career options

If you have a background or degree in optometry, there are various career choices available to you. Below are six options to consider, together with their respective duties and salary expectations:

1. Optical assistant

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National average salary: £21,204 per year

Primary duties: Optical assistants work alongside optometrists and dispensing opticians to offer support to customers and patients. This could mean working in an optician's store or hospital. While they don't measure people's eyesight, optical assistants can answer questions for customers about the process and what to expect. Optical assistants may book appointments, receive deliveries, help customers choose lenses or frames, assist their colleagues and advise customers on matters such as caring for their glasses. This is a relatively entry-level role and could lead to becoming a dispensing optician with further training.

Related: What does an optical assistant do? (Definition and duties)

2. Optical laboratory technician

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National average salary: £22,582 per year

Primary duties: An optical laboratory technician works in a laboratory or at an optician's to make or finish glasses. They may also fit lenses to frames, a process known as 'glazing' or 'reglazing' if they're replacing old lenses with new ones on the same frames. They're responsible for ensuring that the glasses are accurate and of high quality, which can include cutting lenses and shaping them. They might also repair broken glasses. The role requires good manual dexterity, patience and attention to detail.

Related: What does a laboratory technician do? (Plus skills and tips)

3. Dispensing optician

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National average salary: £29,681 per year

Primary duties: A dispensing optician often works at an optician's store, providing people with contact lenses and glasses that best suit their requirements. They can also give customers advice on how to care for their eyes, look after their glasses and use contact lenses properly. When a customer requires a new pair of glasses, a dispensing optician might take the necessary measurements and help the customer choose the frames they want. They might also adjust these frames so they fit better and repair damaged ones. In addition to working at an optician's, dispensing opticians might also work in hospitals.

Related: What does a dispensing optician do? (Plus salaries and jobs)

4. Medical sales representative

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National average salary: £31,760 per year

Primary duties:

A medical sales representative sells medical products and equipment to the healthcare sector, often as an employee of a pharmaceutical or medical technology company. Medical sales representatives can come from a variety of backgrounds, including optometry, pharmacy and even business. A background in optometry can be useful, as it familiarises you with certain medical equipment, such as for testing eyesight. Medical sales representatives identify new contacts or clients, give presentations, persuade customers to purchase their employer's products, attend medical conferences and provide after-sales service.

Related: How to become a medical sales representative (with duties)

5. Healthcare scientist

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National average salary: £45,011 per year

Primary duties: A background or degree in optometry can lead to a career as a healthcare or clinical scientist specialising in ophthalmic and vision science. These scientists typically work in healthcare institutions, such as hospitals and outpatient clinics, alongside other professionals, including optometrists, nurses, ophthalmologists and other healthcare scientists. They may perform various tests on patients to measure their vision, check the amount of pressure within their eyes or take images of the eye and its surrounding structures. They might also take the measurements necessary for inserting lenses for cataract surgery or conduct electrophysiological investigations of the eye.

Related: 15 health science degree jobs (with duties and salaries)

6. Optometrist

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National average salary: £54,328 per year

Primary duties: An optometrist is a practitioner of optometry, meaning they can test an individual's vision, prescribe glasses, fit contact lenses and evaluate their eye health. Optometrists use a range of instruments to perform these tasks, including tonometers and retinal cameras. They can evaluate an individual's vision and diagnose eye-related health issues, give advice and refer certain clients to specialists if they require further attention. Optometrists might also discuss the best choice of glasses for their clients. Optometrists could work at a public or private hospital, a laboratory, a GP practice or at an optician's.

Related: What is an optometrist? Common duties and work environment

Frequently asked questions

Below are some frequently asked questions about optometry and its related careers, along with their respective answers:

What's the difference between optometry, orthoptics and ophthalmology?

These three fields are all related to the study of eyes and eyesight, but there are distinctions between them. An optometrist focuses primarily on people's vision in addition to evaluating signs of abnormalities or symptoms of disease. They can offer advice and prescribe glasses or contact lenses but are unable to perform medical procedures. If an individual requires medical intervention, the optometrist may refer them to an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in diseases and treatments of the eye and is able to perform surgery and prescribe medication.

An orthoptist focuses primarily on people's eye movements and the ability of their eyes to work together, also known as binocular vision. Issues related to this could be due to muscle weakness around the eyes or nerve problems. Like optometrists, orthoptists aren't medical doctors and may refer patients to an ophthalmologist if they require medical interventions. Becoming an orthoptist requires a degree with approval from the Health and Care Professions Council, whereas optometrists require degrees with approval from the General Optical Council (GOC).

Related: Orthoptist vs optometrist: duties, skills and differences

What are the requirements to become an optometrist?

If you want to practise as an optometrist, it's necessary to register with the GOC. To get to this point, you first require a degree in optometry that has approval from the GOC. The requirements for this degree typically include three A-levels and five GCSEs, with at least one science subject at A-level.

After completing the degree, the next step is completing a one-year pre-registration work placement. This is a period of work under the supervision of a registered optometrist, after which you can apply for the final assessment with the GOC. When you pass this, you can register and practise as an optometrist.

Related: How to become an optometrist (plus definition and skills)

Can a dispensing optician become an optometrist?

Yes. If you're a dispensing optician and want to progress your career, you could work towards becoming an optometrist. One of the key differences between these roles is that an optometrist can test people's sight, unlike a dispensing optician. Becoming an optometrist requires some qualifications, which include getting a GOC-approved degree, going through the one-year pre-registration work placement and subsequently registering as an optometrist with the GOC.

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