Optometry Specializations

You’ve chosen a great time to get started! Optometrist made the 2012 cnnmoney.com Best Jobs in America with an anticipated growth rate of 33%. Salary might be part of the reason—the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics stats on optometry from 2012 lists the mean annual wage for optometrists at $113,010, with the top 25% earning over $132,580.
[ RELATED: Is optometry school right for you? ]
Why is the future looking so bright for eye care? Careeroverview.com credits the baby boomers—the aging of this generation is having a significant impact on several facets of life in this country, including the insurance, financial services, healthcare, and even cosmetics industries. And as these folks continue to get older, they’ll need glasses, contacts, and follow-up care after eye surgeries—as well as many other services provided by optometrists.
Optometry is also a career that offers a wide range of options for specialization. You can focus your patient interaction, and have the chance to do work that makes a significant impact on people’s everyday lives. Take a look at some of the opportunities for specialization.
For more information about becoming an optometrist, visit the American Optometric Association and Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry websites.

Behavioral Optometry

Our modern life is increasingly putting demands on our bodies that our systems are struggling to keep up with. One of the best examples of this is our vision—the pervasive use of computers and the rising number of hours we spend in front of the television each week means that we’re using our eyesight more for sustained concentration at very close range and far less than we do for distance. The gold standard of visual acuity is “20/20 vision“, which is the measurement of our visual perception based on performance at a distance of 20 feet—much further away than you sit from your computer hour after hour and probably more than the space between your couch and the TV.
Behavioral optometry is a vision care specialty that holistically treats vision problems resulting from the stress of sustained, close-range, visual tasks through ocular training and special lenses. Still considered an alternative therapy option and practiced by a minority of optometrists throughout the world, behavioral optometry is a growing specialty because of its success in the treatment of migraines, depression, and panic attacks. It’s also becoming a treatment option for children with disabilities. Behavioral optometrists acknowledge that the field is not a replacement for the typical care provided by ophthalmologists and optometrists—and practitioners must already have a degree in optometry before beginning the coursework for behavioral optometry—but it does provide an alternative when other routes have proven ineffective.
Check out the Optometric Extension Program Foundation or COVD websites to learn more.

Geriatric Optometry

Optometry is one of the fastest-growing healthcare careers, and because of the aging of the baby boomer population, the need for optometrists who specialize in vision care for older adults is becoming particularly urgent.
According to the American Optometric Association:

Since the start of the century, the percentage of Americans aged 65 or older has more than tripled (4.1% in 1900; 12.7% in 1997), and the number of older Americans has increased more than 10 fold from 3.1 million to 34.1 million. By 2030, it is projected that there will be nearly 70 million people age 65 or more living in the United States, twice the number than in 1997. The older population is not only growing, it is also aging. When compared to the older population in 1900, the number of people age 85 or older is 31 times greater. This growth is further highlighted by a 16 fold increase in the 75-to-84 age group and an 8 times increase in the population aged 65-74.

Excellent vision care is a key element in helping the aging population maintain an independent lifestyle. An optometrist specializing in geriatric care must develop skills that include management of degenerative eye disease, rehabilitation of impaired visual functions, assessment of psychosocial dysfunction, and interdisciplinary health team participation. The rapid development of technology with lasers, medication, and instrumentation not only guarantees that the scope of a geriatric optometrist’s job will expand, but also means an opportunity for people entering the profession to be on the vanguard of care. A one-year post-graduate clinical residency is required for this specialty.
Check out the Association or Schools and Colleges of Optometry and AOA websites to learn more about geriatric optometry.

Low Vision Therapy

Few people classified as “blind” actually experience total vision loss. Instead, they have various levels of eyesight remaining and can experience significant improvements to their quality of life through low vision therapy—the application of everything from magnifying glasses to higher-tech equipment like software and other adaptive apparatus.
A low-vision therapist is an optometrist or ophthalmologist who specializes in examining and diagnosing conditions that affect eyesight but cannot be corrected by conventional means like glasses or contact lenses or even surgery. They usually work as part of a team that includes occupational therapists and mobility/orientation specialists to help a patient make the best use of their remaining vision.
A one-year post-graduate clinical residency is required for this specialty.
For more information, visit AOA.org, or the ACVREP or The Low Vision Gateway websites.


After a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or the loss of an eye, a patient may require treatment from a neuro-optometrist for symptoms that include focusing problems, double vision, dizziness, or even visual hallucinations.
Neuro-optometrists assess the way the brain processes information sent by the eyes. They often work in tandem with an occupational or physical therapist to coordinate vision functions with the rest of body. Treatment could also include work with lenses.
The specialty requires a one-year clinical residency, and most practitioners are located in large, urban hospitals.
For more information, visit AOA.org or the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association‘s (NORA) website.

Pediatric Optometry

Like working with kids? Consider specializing in pediatric optometry. The AOA estimates that nearly a quarter of school-aged children have vision problems—problems that pose a significant threat to their education. From dealing with near- and farsightedness to more complex problems like amblyopia (“lazy eye”), astigmatism, and strabismus (crossed or misaligned eyes), pediatric optometrists can radically change a child’s life.
Pediatric optometry is also an ideal specialization for people interested in doing community work. The need for optometrists who work with children is especially heavy in rural areas and urban centers where there is limited access to eye care because of location or poverty. The possibility of opening up a child’s world through the gift of improved eyesight makes this one of the most rewarding specialties in the field.
A one-year post-graduate clinical residency is required for this specialty.
For more information, visit AOA.org.
[ KEEP STUDYING: Is optometry a good pre-health alternative? ]