How to Become an Optometrist in Canada

By Tess Campbell Modified on October 11, 2023
Tags : Academics | Careers | Health and Wellness

Want to be a sight for sore eyes? A career as an optometrist could be a great option for you!

 How to Become an Optometrist in Canada

Do you remember those sight tests you’d take as you were growing up where you’d read the smallest row of letters on a chart with different sizes in front of you? How about the image of a hot air balloon getting blurrier or clearer? These tests were done by an optometrist who specializes in eye care.

Have you ever wondered what it took for your optometrist to get where they are in their career? How much optometrists earn on average? Find out how you can become an optometrist in Canada!

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist is a specialized health care professional who provides comprehensive eye and vision care to diagnose, manage, and treat ocular diseases and disorders.

An optometrist who has recently graduated will typically shadow other optometrists or work as an associate in an existing practice. After a few years, optometrists will typically become a partner in an existing practice or set up their own practice. However, optometrists can also work in hospitals, clinics, community health centres, rehabilitation centres, and universities. Many optometrists can be open evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ schedules.

What does an optometrist do?

Optometrists focus on providing eye care for patients. This means that they will examine eyes to assess and diagnose diseases and disorders. They also prescribe and fit patients with eyeglasses or contact lenses to improve their vision. Some other common responsibilities of optometrists are:

  • Performing vision tests
  • Writing prescriptions for corrective lenses
  • Providing emergency eye care
  • Prescribing medications for eye diseases
  • Diagnosing physical injuries of the eye and chronic conditions like cataracts or glaucoma

If you’re still curious about what a career in optometry could look like, check out this video following the day in the life of an optometrist:

How to become an optometrist in five steps

If this seems like the type of career for you, then find out how you can become an optometrist in Canada in five steps:

Step one: undergraduate education

The first step to becoming an optometrist is to complete at least three years of a university Bachelor of Science (BSc) program within a Faculty of Science. The program you choose to study in Science can be biology, biochemistry, biomedical science, etc.

You are able to pursue a degree in another area like kinesiology, but those programs may not allow you to take the required prerequisite courses needed to apply for a Doctor of Optometry program. Some common prerequisite courses needed are English, Ethics, Psychology, Microbiology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Physics, and Physiology.

However, each school will have varying requirements for their programs, so make sure you check with the schools you’re interested in to make sure your education will match.

Step two: Doctor of Optometry degree

The next step to becoming an optometrist is to earn a Doctor of Optometry degree, which typically takes four to five years to complete. There are currently only two schools of optometry in Canada:

  • University of Waterloo (four years)
    • Three years of a BSc
    • Prerequisite courses: English, Ethics, Psychology, Microbiology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Physics, and Physiology
    • Optometry Admissions Test
    • Police check
    • CASPer exam
    • Interview
  • Université de Montréal (five years)
    • A diploma d’études collégiales, a university bachelor’s degree, or two years of CEGEP at the undergraduate level
    • Prerequisite courses: Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics
    • CASPer exam
    • Interview
    • Proof of knowledge of French

Since there are only the two schools in Canada that offer this optometry program, some students will head to optometry school in the United States. If you choose this route, make sure the school of optometry you choose is recognized and accredited to make your path to returning to practice in Canada simpler. Some other students may choose a direct-entry optometry program in the United Kingdom after high school which can cut down your years of study. Just keep in mind that as an international graduate you may need to take additional exams to be eligible to register to practice in Canada.

How much does optometry school cost? The cost of studying optometry in Canada is close to $100,000, whereas the cost for optometry school in the US is closer to $250,000.

Step three: Complete your residency (optional)

Some recent graduates will choose to pursue an additional year of residency training to advance their patient care skills. This isn’t a requirement to become an optometrist, but it can help boost your confidence before practicing on your own. You can choose to specialize in a specific area during your residency, like Pediatric Optometry, Geriatric Optometry, Ocular Disease, Family Practice Optometry, Vision Therapy and Vision Rehabilitation, and more.

To apply for a residency position, you’ll need to go through the Optometry Residency Match (ORMatch) application service and choose the positions you’re interested in. Your application will require a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, three letters of reference, and your Doctor of Optometry transcripts.

Step four: Take a licensing exam

Before you can register with the province or territory you’d like to work in, you’ll need to pass a licensing exam from the Optometry Examining Board of Canada (OEBC).

There are two parts to this exam: the OEBC exam and the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). The OEBC is a written multiple-choice exam based on different case scenarios, and the OSCE is a practical exam where candidates will be presented with different stations of scenarios.

Step five: Register with your province’s regulatory authority

Before you can become a practicing optometrist in Canada, you’ll need to register with your province’s regulatory authority to gain a license. Each province and territory have their own requirements for candidates wishing to be licensed, but some common requirements in addition to your education and OEBC and OSCE exams are:

  • A criminal record check
  • Successful completion of a Jurisprudence exam
  • CPR certification

These are only some of the requirements you may need, so make sure you check with the regulatory authority for your province to find out exactly what you need to become a licensed optometrist.

Career prospects

When investigating a potential career prospect, the top two questions that are asked are “how much do optometrists in Canada make?” and “will there be jobs available for me after I graduate?

The average salary for optometrists in Canada is $86,115, but this amount can increase to about $167,858 based on your experience, location, and practice. If you’re interested in learning more about your potential salary, check out these low, average, and high salary expectations for optometrists.

Over the next 10 years, there’s expected to be a need for optometrists due to an aging population and the retirement of current optometrists. So, this you’ll find plenty of openings for work when you graduate..

So, do you want to become an optometrist in Canada? Although the road to becoming an optometrist can be long, there are plenty of opportunities in this career as the population continues to age and eye care continues to be important. Can you see yourself as an optometrist?

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