Who should care for your glaucoma?

Take Home Points

Polls show that Americans have trouble telling the difference between the various kinds of eye care people. Let’s make it easy. There is an optician, who makes glasses and frames, but doesn’t look into the eye or treat eye disease. They essentially follow written instructions from eye doctors, and often perform important services in making glasses effective and comfortable. The optometrist goes to school for four years in studying normal eye function and eye diseases. They are not doctors of medicine (M.D.) and do not go to medical school to study general body disease. During their 4 year study, they typically get to examine people with eye disease under a faculty of other optometrists, but only in some optometric schools that partner with eye surgeons do they see persons who are being actively treated surgically. Many optometrists then take an extra year or more of specialized training in care of eye diseases. During the 1990s, state legislatures all over the U.S.A. passed laws permitting optometrists to prescribe eye drops for glaucoma, but not to treat glaucoma with laser or surgery. Only a small proportion of the prescriptions written for glaucoma in the U.S.A. are now written by optometrists alone. At the Wilmer Glaucoma Center, we have several excellent optometrist faculty members who work with us in a team approach. The final care of those with glaucoma is performed by ophthalmologists.

An ophthalmologist is an M.D. who went to four years of college, four years of medical school, one year of internship, then three years of specialized resident training in eye disease and eye surgery. After this training, an extensive written and oral set of examinations is given by the American Board of Ophthalmology, and only those who pass both are Board-certified ophthalmologists. You can find out if the ophthalmologist you want to see is Board-certified by going to the following web site (http://www.abms.org). You will need to provide your email address and a password that you make up to log in. The web site does not indicate which specialty board the doctor is certified, but if you are looking up an ophthalmologist, it is likely that it indicates Board certification in eye medicine.

The American Glaucoma Society is a group of nearly 1,000 ophthalmologists who went beyond standard training in residency and did one or more years training under a glaucoma specialist group to learn the fine details of taking care of glaucoma. Their "fellowship" required that they do a set number of glaucoma procedures under supervision by a senior glaucoma specialist. After successfully completing that additional training, they are voted on as acceptable for membership in the Society after practicing for some time after fellowship. The Society has a web site with a heading "Find an AGS doctor near you" that gives the office location and contact information for members.

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