Careers in health care are generally expected to grow between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the professions of pharmacists and optometrists are no exception. Pharmacists’ employment is expected to grow 25 percent, while the need for optometrists is expected to grow by 33 percent -- both much faster than the U.S. average for all jobs. An aging population, health-care reform and chronic disease, not to mention that huge baby boomer group, are expected to increase demand for medications and vision care.
Both pharmacists and optometrists are called “doctor,” but they get those titles in different ways. An optometrist is not actually a medical doctor, or MD, she’s a doctor of optometry. After college, she spends four years in optometry school and may also complete a clinical residency for more advanced training. But wait -- she’s not done yet. She must complete the National Boards in Optometry, and in some states, she may also need to pass a state exam. Once she’s jumped through all those hoops, she can apply for a state license.
A pharmacist is a doctor of pharmacy, or Pharm. D. Depending on the program, a Pharm. D. candidate may need a bachelor’s degree, but some programs just have prerequisites that take two or three years to complete. Candidates also must pass a special test called the Pharmacy College Admissions Test. After another three or four years of pharmacy school, the pharmacist must take both national and state licensing exams to get a license. A pharmacist who has his sights set on practicing as a clinical pharmacist or doing research must complete a residency program that lasts one or two years..
Pharmacists and optometrists have very different duties. A pharmacist fills prescriptions, makes sure patients are taking the right amount of medicine, checks for interactions with other medications and educates patients about side effects or other medication-related issues. An optometrist spends her day in the diagnosis, treatment or management of eye problems. Optometrists are the folks who use those odd machines to see whether you need glasses and then to prescribe lenses or contact lenses to improve your vision.
Work Settings and Salaries
Pharmacists and optometrist may both work in hospitals, clinics or outpatient care centers. You may also find them in shopping malls -- nothing like picking up your allergy medication, getting your eyes checked and finding a cute little black dress all in one trip. They sometimes work evenings or weekends to meet patients' needs. Either may be a small-business owner as well as a health-care professional. Despite the differences in their professions, pharmacists and optometrists have similar incomes. Optometrists earned an average annual salary of $107,720 in 2011, and pharmacists earned $112,160, according to the BLS.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.