Ophthalmologist - is a medical doctor who specializes in the pathology of the eye. Their specialty includes treating the eye and performing surgeries to correct eye conditions. Ophthalmologists can also perform routine eye exams and prescribe glasses and contacts. Ophthalmologists are oftentimes involved in research regarding cures and causes of eye conditions. As an MD, they complete approximately 12-13 years of education, like any other MD. (American Academy of Ophthalmology aao.org)
Optometrist - is a doctor of optometry. They are the primary care professionals for your eyes. Optometrists focus on managing vision. They will diagnose vision problems, treat patients' visual needs using a wide range of practices from eyeglasses and contacts to vision therapy. Optometrists can also treat eye conditions and prescribe medications for the eye. They are not medical doctors. However, they are doctors of optometry. Optometrists will complete approximately 8 or more years of education focused on the health and treatment of the eye. (American Academy of Ophthalmology aao.org)
Optician - is the person who helps you pick out your glasses. Along with being your fashion consultant for eye wear, they can adjust your eyeglasses to give you that custom fit. Opticians also help you to select the right lenses for your needs and educate you on why these lenses are right for you. Some opticians can also manufacture your glasses. In some states, opticians can also assist the eye doctor by performing some simple tests prior to the eye exam, and they can also teach you how to insert and remove contact lenses properly for new contact lens wearers. Opticians are trained on the job and they can become certified by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO Certified). (American Academy of Ophthalmology aao.org)
When Should I See Each of them?
Optometrists are the primary eye care providers and they will refer you to see an ophthalmologist as needed. Ophthalmologists usually have sub-specialties and are referred to. You are always welcome to see an ophthalmologist. However, unless you have been referred to an ophthalmologist, it is recommended that you see an optometrist.
Think of it this way, you would not go to a cardiologist for your yearly physical. The same goes for eye doctors. You should see your optometrist every year for your routine eye exam and for emergent eye care, and they will refer you to an ophthalmologist as needed.
You will likely see an optician every time you visit the eye doctor. Whenever you pick out glasses and have them adjusted you will be working with and optician.