The eyes are an incredibly complex and intricate organ in the body and some would say that eyesight is perhaps the most important of all the senses. It is therefore not surprising that there are many professional bodies and professions relating to the eyes and it can be useful to know what everyone does, especially if you think that you may need contact lenses or glasses and who can prescribe them for you.
There are three main types of professions: optometrists, dispensing optician and ophthalmologist. What is the difference between all these three professions and what do they do?
While many countries use the term optician and this can be seen in New Zealand, strictly speaking there is no such term under New Zealand law and the correct term is optometrist. A person trained as an optometrist is allowed to write prescriptions for spectacles or contact lenses to correct eye conditions and is also able to diagnose eye diseases and conduct eye examinations.
All optometrists have to be registered with the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board. In order to qualify as an optometrist, a practitioner must study on a four-year Bachelor’s degree programme to become a Bachelor of Optometry.
A dispensing optician also has to be registered under New Zealand law with the Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians Board. The duties of a dispensing optician include reading optical prescriptions and advising customers to help them choose the right lenses, spectacle frames and contact lenses. Practitioners will need to have a dispensing optician certificate in order to be able to register with the Board.
An ophthalmologist is a medical professional who has specialized in the eyes, and this includes all the elements of the eye and its surrounding tissue. Most are trained to perform surgical treatments as well as therapeutic treatments. Training to become an ophthalmologist takes a long time as it is first necessary to train as a doctor. Ophthalmologists must be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand.
Separate organization for professionals interested in contact lenses
The Cornea and Contact Lens Society of New Zealand is a specialist organization and its members consist of optometrists and ophthalmologists who have a particular interest in contact lenses. Its mission is to promote and share knowledge and experience of working with contact lenses.