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Eye Care Specialists


Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in eye care. Ophthalmology is a surgical subspecialty. Ophthalmologists are licensed by provincial medical boards to practice medicine and are certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Ophthalmologists are certified to:

  • Diagnose and treat all forms of eye disease.
  • Prescribe and administer diagnostic and therapeutic drugs.
  • Prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Treat eye injuries.
  • Perform surgery on the eye.

Optometrists must complete a 3- to 4-year Bachelor of Science degree and a 4-year Doctor of Optometry degree before passing an exam by the Optometry Examining Board of Canada. Some optometrists also do a residency or fellowship training.

Optometrists provide most vision care services in Alberta. In all provinces, optometrists diagnose and treat eye diseases and prescribe therapeutic drugs. Alberta optometrists are certified to:

  • Diagnose refractive errors and prescribe corrective and therapeutic lenses.
  • Diagnose and treat binocular vision concerns, such as problems with eye focusing, teaming, or movements.
  • Find and treat disease and refer you to an ophthalmologist or other specialist.
  • Administer diagnostic and therapeutic drugs.
  • Perscribe certain drugs to treat eye conditions.
  • Diagnose and treat glaucoma.
  • Order laboratory testing.
  • Remove foreign bodies.
  • Provide medically necessary eyecare (covered by Alberta Health Care).

Opticians are skilled technicians. They do not test vision, prescribe corrective lenses, or diagnose or treat eye diseases. All provinces require completion of a 1- to 4-year training program. Opticians can complete more training to become licensed to test vision and fit contact lenses. Opticians can:

  • Fill prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.
  • Help you select appropriate eyeglass frames and measure the eyes to ensure a proper fit.
  • Fit eyeglass lenses into frames.
  • Adjust eyeglass frames for comfort and proper lens position.
  • Clean and polish contact lenses.

Making the choice

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists can diagnose refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, and prescribe corrective lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses.

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists can diagnose and treat disorders that affect the eye. Ophthalmologists can perform surgical treatment.

Eye exams for people under age 19 and over age 64 are covered by Alberta Health Care. Medically necessary services for all ages are covered by Alberta Health Care, but there may be costs you have to pay yourself. See the full list of coverage for vision care in Alberta.


Adaptation Date: 10/6/2023

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.