What do optometrists do?
Sounds simple and straightforward, right?
Ask a dozen physicians and I would bet about a quarter will know what an optometrists is trained to do or is allowed or licensed to do.
What is confusing is the natural compulsion of physicians to feel that if you're not a physician, you can only do assessment. That means only a physician can assess and treat. But what makes optometry a bit of a different kind of profession is the extensive, albeit focused, education that recent graudates have undergone. In recognition of this wider and deeper education, individual states in the United States have set the boundaries of optometric practice. The concept of legislative definition of scope of practice is an anathema to some physicians.
But other differences, some less obivous, further differentiatle the optometrists from the normal model of a physician. First, optometrists see mostly healthy eyes and people. In that group or segment, the optometrist isn't preoccupied so much about finding a signficant pathology, just because it probably isn't any. By attending mainly to healthy people, the optometrists is adept at practicing anywhere in the continuum of care. That continuum spans refraction to disease management. However, the ophthalmologist will probably lean more to unhealthy eyes that require surgery. Like surgeons, if an ophthalmologist sees something wrong, they will recommend medicine or surgery.
Up to now, the division standing between the refracting optometrist and the ophthalmologist has been stark, but easy to comprehend. The responsibilities were clear, The authority was unmmistakable. Optometrists detect and refer and ophthalmologists treat.
Simple then, but not so simple now. With nearly half or more of all optometrists still detecting and referring, that proportion clashes with perception. For an ophthalmologists, that question may either be a preumptous one, or one that doesn't need asking. Either way, most opthalmologists generally view or want to confine optometry to that traditional model of detect and refer.
In summary, the traditional image of an optometrists has unfortunately hobbled the collaborative nature between the two professions. I even think that most optometrists pine for those older days past when such distinctions prevailed. For collaboration to advance, there must be some recognition that optometrists are no longer willing to be confined to the model of "detect-and-refer". In fact, It is a double edged sword, though, because most optometrists probably are themselves struggling with the pervasive notion that they are only "detect-and-refer" optometrsits, something that doesn't smack of collaboration but of unwilling servant. Much needs to be done still.