Optician vs. Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist

I’m always immersed in ophthalmology, but I was particularly immersed last week, attending an ophthalmology conference in Brazil. So it seems appropriate to focus today’s post on some eye-related professions. In particular, what’s the difference between an optician, an optometrist, and an ophthalmologist?

I got my first pair of oh-so-fashionable “pop-bottle” glasses when I was about 10 years old. It was the first time I realized that “normal”-eyed people could see individual leaves on trees, as opposed to just big blobs of green. Amazing!

The optician helped me choose the frames that would support the thick glass and look good on me. (Which is a lot, for a dorky fourth-grader.) Being 1976-ish, they were rounded-square, silver wire frames. So perfect with my Dorothy Hamill haircut and embroidered wide-leg jeans.

But first, in order to get a prescription for lenses, I went to see the optometrist. He did all kinds of tests, having me follow his pen, shining a light in my eyes, and asking me, “Which is better, one or two? Three or four?” He then decided how strong my glamorous new lenses should be.

I didn’t see an ophthalmologist at that time, but I knew other people who did. My mom had some weird things called floaters and flashers, and some more serious stuff like scratches on one of her corneas. My grandmother had to have cataracts removed, and a friend had a detached retina that required surgery.

My dilemma was, how do you remember which of these O’s is which?

It’s actually really easy! The longer the job title, the more training the person has, and the greater their scope of practice is*:

  • OPTICIAN – 8 letters/3 syllables, 1–2 years of training
    • 1- or 2-year degree, certificate or diploma.
    • Fill prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses; fit frames.
  • OPTOMETRIST – 11 letters/4 syllables, 8+ years of training
    • 4 years undergrad + 4 years optometric school. Some optometrists will do residencies in optometry subspecialties.
    • Degree: OD (oculus doctor). Like the JD (juris doctor) and PhD (philosophiae doctor), the OD is not a medical degree.
    • Provide eye exams; diagnose and treat some eye conditions; prescribe some medications.
  • OPHTHALMOLOGIST – 15 letters/5 syllables, 12+ years of training
    • 4 years undergrad + 4 years medical school + 1 year internship + 3 years residency. Many ophthalmologists also obtain fellowships in ophthalmological subspecialties.
    • Degree: MD (medicinae doctor) or DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine). Both of these are medical degrees.
    • Provide eye exams; diagnose and treat all eye conditions; prescribe medications; perform surgery.

* According to US standards. Other countries may require different qualifications or have different scopes of practice.

They’re vs. There vs. Their

Which one is correct?
A) Their on they’re own there.
B) There on their own they’re.
C) They’re on their own there.

If you guessed C, give yourself a gold star!

These homophones are often mixed up, but it’s actually very easy to remember which is which.

First, they’re — the odd one with the apostrophe. Remember that one job of the apostrophe is to take the place of a missing letter. In this case, it’s taking the place of the “a” in “are”.

Second, there. You know that “there” is a place, and “here” is a place, too. Just remember that “there” is “here” with a “t” in front.

That leaves their. It’s a possessive (it shows ownership) pronoun, like my, your, his, her, its, and our. It contains the noun “heir”. You can make an easy rhyme to remember this one: Will and Kate just gave birth to their heir to the throne.

In a nutshell:
They’re = they are
There = “t” + here
Their = T(heir)

Help Wanted: Apostrophe

Our ancient, yet ever-evolving organization is looking for a dependable apostrophe (’) who understands its place in our structure and improves the quality of communication for all English speakers. You will be successful in this position if you are eager to step in and help where needed but will not try to force yourself where you don’t belong.

Key responsibilities:

  • DO fill in for missing letters and numbers – Sometimes letters and numbers need vacations. Your job is to hold their place while they are away.  Examples: isn’t (is not), ‘til (until), int’l (international); ‘60s (1960s), ‘40s (1940s).
  • DO show ownership – Saying “belongs to” every time is a time-wasting, frivolous use of resources. Therefore, you will often work with “s” to end words to show possession. Examples: Mary’s shoe (the shoe that belongs to Mary), the dog’s bone (the bone that belongs to the dog). Please note: To further increase workplace efficiency, you will work alone if the word already ends in “s.” Examples: Chris’ beer (the beer that belongs to Chris), the giraffes’ necks (the necks that belong to the giraffes).

Conditions for dismissal:

  • DON’T indicate plurals – Words are very sensitive. If you try to force yourself into the middle of a perfectly good plural word, they feel like you are trying to stab them in the gut. Examples: forks, musicians, hedgehogs. These words are complete, so don’t try to take the place of something that isn’t missing.
  • DON’T show ownership in possessive pronouns – Our staff of personal possessive pronouns (yours, his, ours, etc.) are all highly educated and can do their jobs by themselves. Like plurals, they are complete words and have a low tolerance for pain.

To apply for this position: Please submit your résumé and a cover letter that indicates which of the following sentences use(s) apostrophes correctly:

a)      I understand the do’s and don’ts of this job.
b)      Mary’s Bloody Mary’s are the best in town.
c)      It wasn’t ‘til the ‘90s that CDs became popular.
d)      Parking’s available to customer’s only.
e)      That sheet music from the 1700’s isn’t your’s, is it?

Palate vs. Palette vs. Pallet

Have you ever eaten food that pleases the palette? The answer is “no,” unless you’re talking about paint made from chocolate and spaghetti sauce. But palette and palate are very commonly mixed up… and then there’s pallet. So here’s a quick rundown on these confusing homophones and how to remember which is which.

  • The palate is the roof of your mouth, and refers to your sense of taste. So, a roasted marshmallow might be pleasing to your palate, but if it’s flaming, it will burn your palate. >>> Remember that “pal ate” and food/taste are a natural association.
  • palette refers to the range of color a painter uses as well as the actual board that holds the paint. Claude Monet held a palette of paint and created Woman With a Parasol in a palette of blues and greens. >>> Remember that words ending in -ette are often of French origin. Think of an image of a French artist standing at an easel and holding a palette and paintbrush.
  • pallet is a flat wood or plastic platform used at warehouses to hold items for moving and storage. A smaller version can be used for holding fruits and vegetables. Today I put 27 boxes on a pallet and shrinkwrapped it. Then, I picked a pallet-full of strawberries. >>> Remember that pallet is an inelegant spelling, for an inelegant, industrial thing.

Here are a few more examples:

  • My pal ate some chocolate and his palate was pleased.
  • Marie Antoinette held a palette and painted a silhouette of a cigarette.
  • If you take a mallet to that pallet, your wallet will pay.

Now, I’m going to go eat a pallet full of palettes, which certainly won’t please my palate.