CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Eye spy a rewarding career

By Aprille Janes
Special to The Toronto Sun

October is Eye Health month and the Eye Health Council of Canada is encouraging each of us to book a regular exam. But have you considered a career on the other side of the eye chart?

Optometrists are health professionals trained in providing front line vision care.
An optometrist screens a patient for diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition that can cause blindness. One in four Canadians over age 40 is at risk for diabetes and related vision loss.

They are licensed to diagnose and treat problems with focus, eye co-ordination and diseases and disorders of the eye and the visual system. In addition, they can be the early warning system for other diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

In Canada, the only English language school of optometry is here in Ontario at the University of Waterloo. Applicants require undergraduate science training at the university level. It usually takes two years to get the prerequisites which are listed on Waterloo's Web site at

It should be noted that the admission requirements are under review. Check the site for when those changes become official. In addition, consider carefully the suggested optional courses. Although they aren't required, the stronger background offers an advantage. Competition is keen to enter the program.

Applicants must also pass the OAT, a standardized test administered by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. This is similar to the MCAT exam given to potential medical students.

"As in any of the health professions you really have to enjoy working with people," says Dr. Joe Chan, O.D., M.B.A. and president of the Ontario Association of Optometrists. "If you're trying to make your personal contribution, trying to help people out and just enjoy being with people, the day doesn't seem long. Strong interpersonal and communication skills will make you more effective as an optometrist."

When their training is complete, graduates apply to The College of Optometrists of Ontario to become licensed to practice. The COA is the regulatory body for the profession of optometry and governs the profession under the legal requirements of the Regulated Health Professions Act. You can visit their Web site at for more information.

Chan talks about the opportunities available to newly-minted optometrists. "The most typical route is to work in an associateship position with an existing doctor and practice in their facility. You can hone your skills and get some experience under your belt. Usually after a couple of years you make a decision to continue on at that facility or create your own opportunities.

"Obviously, you have other choices such as going back into academics. Not a lot of optometrists go into industry, but there are laser centres and places like that you could work for as well. Also, the University of Waterloo is widely regarded internationally as a centre for research."

Other choices include going into residency, wherein you have the opportunity to travel to other countries, work or specialize in pediatrics, eye co-ordination or pathology, for example.

"The profession allows an individual an incredible amount of flexibility, particularly when you're balancing career priorities with personal priorities, whether that is family or travelling or leisure," Chan says.

"I'm in a group practice in Mississauga and I've spent a considerable amount of time over the last two years fulfilling my obligations as president of the association. But that hasn't come at a sacrifice to my patients. I'm able to go into the office and when I'm not there my business partners can cover for me."

Sound interesting? A visit to the Web site of the Ontario Association of Optometrists at will provide more details about this rewarding career.

(Aprille Janes is a freelance writer based in Port Perry. She can be reached at

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