Why do ophthalmologists go to med school while optometrists do not?
Mostly for historical reasons during the parallel development of the two fields.
Optometry developed out of the optical business when opticians would make and grind lenses. Certain opticians developed further training programs so as to be able to "refract," (measure eyes for the glasses prescription). As technology advanced, the Optometric profession committed itself to the demands of being a profession with greatly improved education (Schools of Optometry) and skills including diagnosis and identification of many ocular problems. Today, in most all states, doctors of Optometry diagnose and treat non-complex eye problems as well as refract and sell glasses and contact lenses, but do not perform surgery. They must pass state certification examinations and have an O.D. degree (Optometric Doctor).
Ophthalmology grew out of the first recognized medical specialty: Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat. This specialty eventually split into Ophthalmology and ENT with separate training and board certification. Coming through the medical school route, most all ophthalmologists are MDs. They typically spend several years in a hospital/University setting (after obtaining their medical degree) for more training and supervised acquisition of surgical and diagnostic skills.
Optometrists and Ophthalmologists have increasingly learned to work together so that each can practice at their highest level of training. The selling of glasses and contacts has increasingly been done in a chain optical setting although many ODs and MDs also have on-site optical shops.
_Written by J. Trevor Woodhams, M.D. - Chief of Surgery, Woodhams Eye Clinic