So, your optometrist has asked you to consult an ophthalmologist, but what exactly is it? Obviously, it has something to do with your eyes, hence why you went to the optometrist in the first place, but there are key differences between an optometrist and ophthalmologist (otherwise known as an “eye surgeon”).

So before you see your eye surgeon in St Kilda, Malvern, or throughout Melbourne, here are the key differences between optometrists and ophthalmologists.


Optometrists provide primary health care: they are the first port of call when you think you have an issue with your eye/s. Optometrists offer valuable and imperative eye care for people who think they may be having vision problems.

Your optometrist will ask you about your vision history, your current eye problem and will most likely perform some tests. These tests include things like using different powered lenses before your eyes to see if you need glasses and checking your ability to read over a distance.

Optometrists have the accreditation to prescribe contact lenses, reading glasses and spectacles, as well as aids for the visually impaired. They maintain and diagnose typical eye conditions like reading problems, short-sightedness and dry eyes. They also provide routine eye checks, checking for serious conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma.

They may refer you onto an…


Ophthalmologists are specialised physicians, often surgeons, who have been specially trained as a medical doctor in the field of eye care. They specialise in eye health and vision, with a knowledge of all diseases relating to our eyes.

Ophthalmologists are responsible for diagnosing, treating and monitoring all eye problems, although many specialists have subspecialist skills that make them more adept with different issues.

To see your ophthalmologist, you require a valid referral from your optometrist, a medical specialist or your General Practitioner (GP). You may have to see an orthopedist before seeing your ophthalmologist, and they will ask you some routine questions about your past vision health and any current vision problems you may be experiencing. They may also perform a series of tests on your eyes. Orthopists work closely with ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat eye problems.

You may have to have the same, if not similar, vision tests performed by your ophthalmologist that were performed by your optometrist. They may also perform a series of extra tests to determine the extent of your eye problem. Ophthalmologists will often examine your eyes with a moving microscope – this is performed to diagnose any problems with the eye. They will then discuss management or treatment of the problem should they find one.

It’s always a good idea to ask relevant questions to your ophthalmologist – they are highly trained and accredited and should be able to answer any questions or concerns you have relating to your eye condition.

Your ophthalmologist may be a surgical specialist who is trained to perform a series of eye procedures. To become a surgical ophthalmologist, the individual must undertake many hours of strenuous training given the gravity of such procedures.

There is a list of surgeries that specially trained ophthalmologists can potentially perform, including:

  • Cataract problems
  • Refractive or laser surgery
  • Eye injuries
  • Strabismus (misalignment of the eyes)
  • Cancer removal

Ophthalmologists see their patients in a clinic or surgery, providing specialised treatment for conditions such as:

  • Glaucoma
  • Partial/complete loss of vision
  • Health problems that impact vision (i.e. diabetes)

If you think you need to speak with an ophthalmologist, be sure to receive a valid referral from a GP, medical specialist or optometrist first.