Guest post: Why I Became an Optometrist

Richard Zimbalist OD, FAAO is an optometrist at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, Missouri.  He is the developer of the popular optometric website,, and welcomes blog submissions and case reports from other optometrists for publication.

Doctors are regarded as elite individuals in our society.  When you hear the word, most people conjure the image of a well-dressed professional with a white coat and stethoscope slung around their neck.  If you are interested in a medical career, do some serious soul searching first.  Is your aim to help people?  To earn a lot of money?  To cure cancer?  To have a family life?  I always had a fascination with medicine growing up and for years wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon.  It wasn’t until my last year in college though that I contemplated the necessary training to become an orthopedist. It would include medical school, internship, residency, and fellowship.  The total amount of additional education would come to 10 additional years after college; I wouldn’t start earning a real salary or have any semblance of a “normal” life until the age of 32.  I desired a career in medicine that provided me with a comfortable salary, traditional work schedule, and flexibility in career path options.

Not all doctors are medical doctors (MD).  The historical term has grown to include many other professions including dentists (DDS, DMD), optometrists (OD), podiatrists (DPM), pharmacists (PharmD), physical therapists (DPT), philosophers (PhD) and others.  There are many professions in the health field that enable you to work closely with patients as a doctor without the multitude of schooling.  The best thing you can do if you are interested in a medical field is to shadow a clinician.  When I decided that the MD route wasn’t for me, I took to shadowing many of the above professions.  I remember shadowing a podiatrist and actually made up an excuse to leave early because I was so repulsed by some of the feet that I saw! Shadowing provides you with an invaluable experience that you cannot google or read about anywhere on the web.  You will see what really happens on a day to day basis and most importantly, you will see if you can envision yourself in the field for the next 30 years.

I ultimately decided on optometry because it met many of the criteria that I wanted in a career.  Optometry is a great profession that has grown in strides during the past 20 years.  Optometrists used to solely prescribe glasses and contact lenses, however, we now evaluate disease, help with the legally blind, comanage LASIK, and much more.  Many optometrists have a traditional 9-5 workday although some work Saturdays also to provide extended hours for their patients.  There is a wide variety of practice options available to optometrists including positions in private practice, group practice, corporate, government and academia. I outline the various modes of practice on my website,  Amongst all of this, optometry was recently well ranked in the popular article 15 High-Paying Jobs for People Who Don’t Like Stress by Yahoo.

The old proverb which states, “The eyes are the window to the soul” has more truth to it than people realize.  Optometry is a great career choice for those who want a rewarding career in a medical field.