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Optometry Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Almost everyone reads nowadays, not only because almost everyone knows how to read and because books and newspapers and periodicals are turned out in such quantities, but also because the artificial light afforded by electricity gives to many people added hours and opportunities for reading. The number of people who read, write, sew, typewrite, draw, do fine, close work or otherwise use and abuse their eyes grows yearly. The spread of education also compels an increasing number of people to use their eyes for reading, oftentimes excessively.

In the old days, when comparatively few people went to school, when sewing and other work were not of a kind to require excessive straining of the eyesight, when typewriting and stenography were still unknown, when motion pictures had not yet been thought of, when reading matter did not so completely flood the world as it does today, when people spent their lives mainly in the healthful, open air occupations of the country even in those days, eye troubles and remedies for them were not unknown.

Lenses to help failing vision are an ancient invention; but it is only within recent years that the business of equipping people with the lenses which will most accurately remedy optical defects has become a matter of scientific study and practice. No longer do people enter a shop and themselves select a pair of eyeglasses which seem to improve their vision. Most people go first to an oculist, who is a regular physician specializing in the treatment of the eyes, who, after careful examination prescribes the lenses which will most exactly meet the patient's needs. These glasses are then supplied by the optician, or optometrist, in the shape that will be most effective and comfortable.

Whereas the oculist examines and treats eyes with the aid of drugs, medicines and surgical operations, the optometrist is forbidden by law to make use of any of these methods, and must limit himself to measuring the eyesight, and fitting glasses to the eyes, by mechanical means alone.

The optician must know how to measure the eyesight by all the means permitted him. Even in cases where an oculist has not first been consulted by a customer, he should be able to make up the proper glasses, provided the eyes do not need medical attention. The measuring of vision and the fitting of glasses require, on the optometrist's part, a general knowledge of the fundamentals of optical science. The actual preparation of the glasses, and their proper placing before the eyes, require mechanical skill of a high order.

It is true that the perfect grinding of lenses is not now as difficult as it used to be. Already prepared optical glass can now be obtained in large quantities, and much of the work of grinding can be done with the help of machinery. Nevertheless, a considerable amount of skill is necessary for the detection of flaws in glass, its accurate grinding, and the handling of the materials of which lenses, prisms and mountings are made.

The optometrist must not only prepare the proper lenses, but he must mount them in frames which will be most suitable. Then he will have to place the glasses before the eyes in such a way that they will fit comfortably and at the same time render the most efficient service.

In order to do his work well, the optometrist must have certain definite qualifications. He should, in the first place, be pains-takingly accurate in whatever work he undertakes. A glass that only approximates the one prescribed may do a great deal of harm to its wearer, and it certainly cannot do much good. Only the perfect lens gives the right results, and so only the person capable of turning out perfect work should undertake the practice of optometry. A certain amount of manual dexterity, of mechanical ability, is a great asset to the optometrist, since much of his work calls for that quality.

Most young men who enter upon the profession of optometry look forward to having a business of their own some day. Business ability is necessary for one to conduct an optician's office successfully. And the ordinary virtues of honesty and industry are, of course, as essential for this type of business as for any other.

The practice of optometry is controlled by law in practically every state. The regulations which govern the issuing of licenses to optometrists differ in the various states. In most cases there are definite educational and professional requirements, and pro-visions for the examining of candidates by the State Board of Optometry. A resume of the laws of all the states in regard to optometry may be found in "Higher Education; Optometry: Laws, Rules and Information," The University of the State of New York, Handbook 28, June, 1920.

Most of the laws require that an applicant for an optometrist's license be at least twenty-one years of age. The educational requirements vary. Usually at least two years of high school education are considered necessary, and in some cases a full four-year high school course is required. Some states require that the prospective optometrist shall be a graduate of a recognized school of optometry which comes up to the standard set by the state board. In some cases, from two to four years' practice with a registered optometrist may be substituted for the school course in optical science. In other cases, both graduation and practical experience in the office of an optometrist are required.

Those applicants for the license who possess all the preliminary requirements prescribed by the law are examined by the State Board of Optometry and, if they pass the examinations, are granted a certificate to practice optometry. The examinations for the certificate usually include questions in the anatomy and physiology of the eye, in physiologic and practical optics and in theoretic and practical optometry.

A statement of the exact legislation of any state to govern the practice of optometry may be obtained from the State Board of Optometry at the capital of each state, which will also recommend schools where the profession may be studied.

While studying with a registered optometrist, the student undergoes a sort of apprenticeship. He usually receives small compensation, but the experience and practical knowledge he gains at this time are far more important than the slight compensation he receives.

Later, when he has his license, he usually enters the employ of an established optometrist. His work may be confined to the measuring of customers' eyes, or he may be engaged in preparing the glasses. If he works in a very small office, he may have to take care of the selling, measuring, preparing and fitting of glasses. In a larger place, however, the work is usually rather specialized.

Most young men are not content to spend their lives simply as salaried employees, in which capacity they earn from $35 to $50 a week up. Usually, they save some of their earnings and later open offices of their own. Here they will have to combine professional and business duties. The earnings of independently established optometrists are determined by the sort of service they render, by the community in which they are located, by their business ability and by all the numerous factors influencing every business venture.

Optometry is, after all, a comparatively new profession and, as such, it offers excellent opportunities for the capable and energetic young man. He must realize that there are certain boundaries which he must not overstep—that he must never allow his enthusiasm for his work to lead him into attempting medical treatment of eye defects. If he does make such attempts he will meet the resistance of the law, and will gain the enmity and active antagonism of the medical profession. If, on the other hand, he confines his practice within the limits legally established, he can easily become a force in his community. His work is an important factor in the general struggle to attain and keep health. If he does it well, he can gain the confidence and respect of the medical profession as well as of his customers.

The fact that optometry is a lucrative and not overcrowded profession is attracting a considerable number of young men to it. And the fact that its practice is, in most cases, so closely regulated means that a higher type of optometrist is coming into the field. He is better educated than his predecessors—he knows more about the relation of eye health to general health, more about the business and professional ends of his work than did the optometrist of even a few years ago.

Besides his opportunity to render beneficial service in his own particular community, he may have the opportunity to serve his government. The men comprising the State Board of Optometry are chosen from among practicing opticians of good character and reputation, and of high professional standing. When they take up their public office they must consider not only the advantage of their fellow optometrists, but also—and this is the more important thing the well being of the people. Laws must be made to protect the public and also the legitimately practicing optometrists. Examinations which test the true knowledge of the applicants for the license must be formulated. The prime qualifications of the optometrist on the state board are a knowledge of his profession, an intelligent appreciation of its importance and a sincere desire to foster the well-being of the community.

Every efficient optometrist, even though he may not serve in an official capacity, does his share towards improving the general health and comfort. He should regard his work not only from the standpoint of personal gain but, more important by far, as a ministering to one of the most urgent needs of his fellow men.


ALLPORT, FRANK: "State Legislation Concerning Optometry," Reprinted from Ophthalmology, Jan., 1917.

FRAY, JOSEPH: "The Repairing Optician," H. Frowde, Hodder & Stough-ton, London, 1920.

"Higher Education; Optometry: Laws, Rules and Information," The University of the State of New York, Handbook 28, June, 1920.

MERRITT, WM. W.: "Optical Shop Practice," The Professional Press, Chicago, 1920.

PETTET, ROBERT D.: "The Mechanics of Fitting Glasses," Topaz & Kaemerle, Chicago, 1913.

PHILLIPS, RICHARD J.: "Spectacles and Eyeglasses," P. Blakiston's Son & Co., 1923.


Optical Journal and Review of Optometry, Optical Publishing Co., New York.

Optometrist and Optician, Lionel Topaz, Chicago.

Western Optical World, Optical World Publishing Co., Los Angeles, Cal.

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