As an optometrist, you have the opportunity to provide a vital service for those in the community, especially aging residents. Optometrists diagnose eye problems, prescribe glasses, and handle an array of issues related to the health of their patients' eyes.
Being an optometrist can also be a very lucrative career. Many optometrists own their own private practice and build an ever-growing network of patients through it.
How much can you make as an optometrist, and what factors can affect it?
What is the Average Salary of an Optometrist?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that in 2018, 37,220 working optometrists in the United States made a mean annual wage of $119,980. This was calculated by extrapolating the mean hourly wage of optometrists, which was $57.68.
Because of the growing need for optometrists, the highest-paid professionals in the field make significantly more than the mean wage. Those in the 75th percentile of salary make $135,660 per year ($65.22 per hour), while those in the 90th percentile of salary can make a whopping $188,160 per year ($90.46 per hour).
Those in the 10th percentile, often those just beginning their optometry career, make an hourly wage of $27.64, which translates to $57,430 per year. Those in the 25th percentile make $41.47 per hour, or $86,260 per year. The lowest-paid optometrists still make well above the average when it comes to income in the U.S.
These estimates can all vary based on when the research was done and who is reporting it. Job search website ZipRecruiter, for example, estimated as of September 2019, the average yearly salary for an optometrist is $120,442.
What Factors Determine an Optometrist's Salary?
The average salary of an optometrist is going to be high regardless of the industry or environment. But there are some differences in specific salaries that may give you an idea of the sort of place you may want to practice optometry in.
The "industry," per BLS, that employs the most optometrists is "offices of other health practitioners" - which would include optometrists' offices. These optometrists make a mean hourly wage of $55.84, which translates to $116,150 per year. The industry with the second highest number of optometrists, labeled "offices of physicians" in BLS jargon, featured a mean hourly wage of $65.90 ($137,080 per year).
Another part of the overall health field where many optometrists work is dubbed "health and personal care stores" by BLS. Optometrists working in these retail health establishments make a mean hourly salary of $57.09, aka $118,740.
The health care sectors where optometrists make the most money also employ the fewest optometrists. The top-paying industry niche for optometrists, according to the BLS, is "outpatient care centers," which employ just 980 optometrists throughout the country. Their mean hourly salary in this industry is $66.67, which extrapolates out to $138,660 per year. Optometrists working in the "management of companies and enterprises" industry, of which there are just 50, make a mean hourly salary of $60.67, which is $126,180 per year.
Still, even in parts of the health care field where optometrists make less than the average wage for the profession, they still make quite a bit more than what the average worker in the United States pulls down. Optometrists working for the federal, state and local governments earn a mean annual wage of $89,210 - still well-above the average salary in the U.S.
Geographic Breakdown of Optometrist Salaries
There is good money to be made in well-populated states as an optometrist. But in less populated states, with more of a need for working optometrists, you may be able to make even more.
The five top-paying states for optometrists, as of May 2018, are as follows:
Mean Hourly Wage
Mean Annual Wage
None of these states rank in the top 5 in terms of optometrist employment level; Alaska's numbers were taken from just 50 optometrists, while Vermont's were from 70.
States in the top five for the overall number of optometrists, however, still offered relatively healthy salaries. The state with the most employed optometrists was California, where their average hourly salary was $56.34 ($117,180 per year). Below that were other states with well-populated cities, like Texas ($123,930 per year), Illinois ($121,610 per year), and New York ($124,820 per year).
The specific metropolitan areas in the country with the highest average salaries for optometrists can vary wildly, showing how profitable an optometry career can be all across the country. The metropolitan area that BLS measured as having the highest average annual salary for optometrists is the Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford area of Connecticut at $203,390. Below it is the Mississippi metropolitan area of Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, with an average yearly wage of $193,640.
Metropolitan areas with the highest number of employed optometrists include New York-Newark-Jersey City, where the average annual wage is $120,830, and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin in Illinois/Indiana/Wisconsin, with an average annual wage of $124,430.
Among nonmetropolitan areas, the BLS claims the West North Dakota area offers the highest average annual wages for optometrists at $188,440. The Kansas nonmetropolitan area, meanwhile, was the one with the highest number of optometrists, where they make an average annual wage of $107,660.
Becoming an Optometrist
Optometry can be a very lucrative field, but do remember that to break in you will need a college and post-graduate education, respectively, meaning you'll also end up with a ton of student loan debt thanks to growing college tuition.
Your bachelor's degree should ideally be in a pre-med or biological sciences field. If you already know what school you want to go to to receive your doctorate, look into their requirements. Some schools only require three years of post-secondary education provided you take the correct coursework (biology, chemistry, math, physics, English, zoology, etc.).
From there, you'll need to go on to earn your doctorate. But first, you have to take and pass the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). A service provided by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, (ASCO), passing the OAT is required to attend an optometry program. The test is administered year-round.
With the OAT passed, you'll need a Doctorate of Optometry (O.D.) from an accredited program. As of this writing, there are 23 schools that have received accreditation from the American Optometric Association (AOA). Attending one of these programs, you will receive a comprehensive education on the anatomy and physiology of the eye, as well as diagnoses and treatment of related disorders.
Some graduates, after completing their doctorate, will do a one-year residency to get a more hands-on training of the job and develop more of a specialization within the field.
It is a requirement to become licensed before practicing optometry in the U.S. Doing this requires passing all parts of a multi-part exam that is administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Check the requirements of the state you wish to practice optometry in as well. Some states may also require you to pass additional exams in order to become licensed.
While not a requirement, optometrists are also able to get a board certification from the American Board of Optometry to show a more advanced degree of knowledge or experience.
The BLS has estimated optometrist employment will increase 10% through 2028. This is faster than the average job growth for other occupations.
The biggest reason there is optimism with regards to job growth in the world of optometry is that an aging population is likely to require more medical care. This includes not just routine vision care inherent to declining eyesight in older adults, but also more complex visual issues that can stem from other diseases and disorders that commonly afflict many older Americans.