Optometry Workforce and Education in California


Connie Kwong and Janet M. Coffman

July 31, 2020

Optometrists are health care professionals who have earned a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Common tasks performed by optometrists include conducting eye examinations, diagnosing vision problems (such as nearsightedness or farsightedness), addressing binocular vision issues, diagnosing and treating eye diseases, prescribing eyeglasses or contact lenses and prescribing vision treatments such as vision therapy or low vision aids. Optometrists may also use therapeutic pharmaceutical agents to diagnose and treat certain eye conditions, such as ocular infections, inflammations and glaucoma.

Optometrists are distinct from ophthalmologists. Ophthalmologists are graduates of medical school (MDs or DOs) who specialize in eye health and vision care. Unlike optometrists, ophthalmologists can perform surgeries, such as cataract surgery and strabismus surgery.


  • California optometrists make up the largest share of the nation’s optometrists.
  • California’s OD workforce has greater shares of female and minority ODs than national averages.
  • Most optometry school applicants and graduates are women.
  • Although completion of a residency program is not required to practice optometry, optometry residency programs and positions have expanded in recent years, reflecting the increasing demand for additional experience in specialty areas.
  • Demand for optometrists will likely increase due to California’s growing and aging population.