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Launching a career as a pediatric optometrist starts with a solid math and science background in high school, followed by an undergraduate degree in a science field, a doctoral degree from an accredited school of optometry and completion of at least one year of post-doctoral work in pediatric optometry. Eight or nine years of post-high school study and applied clinical work is the standard to become a pediatric optometrist. Licensure also is a requirement in most jurisdictions and typically occurs following completion of optometry school, previous to specialization study.
A person who wants to become a pediatric optometrist should start preparing herself at the high school level. Any courses in general sciences, math or biology will be helpful. Once an individual has a high school diploma or graduate equivalency degree (GED), she must look for accredited colleges that offer programs or courses in pre-optometry. Courses in English, physics, math, chemistry and biology are required by most schools of optometry later on, so it's usually most logical for a student to major in a science field as an undergraduate. Three years of study is the minimum requirement for entry into an optometry school, so people usually aim for a bachelor's degree.
Following completion of at least three years of coursework in college, a person who wishes to become a pediatric optometrist should begin looking for accredited optometry schools. Competition for positions in these schools is fierce, with only about a third of applicants getting accepted. This is partly because only a handful of schools of optometry are available compared to other academic institutions — in the United States, for example, only 19 colleges were accredited by the Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association in 2007. As part of the search for a school, students must take and pass the Optometry Admissions Test, a competency exam that tests both general academic and scientific knowledge.
If a person is accepted to a school of optometry, the next step to become a pediatric optometrist is to complete four years of formal optometry study. During this time, students take courses such as vision science, optics, pharmacology, systematic diseases and biochemistry. Programs have a clinical component that allows students to practice skills hands-on under supervision, with most clinical work being done within the last one or two years of the optometry program.
After finishing optometry school, an optometrist must follow the licensure guidelines of her jurisdiction. The requirement in the United States, for instance, is to apply for licensure with the candidate's State Board of Optometry. This requires taking and passing multiple examinations relating to optometry and applicable regulations.
The final step for any optometrist who wants to specialize is to complete a post-graduate program, fellowship or internship in his optometry area of choice. Pediatric optometry is considered a specialty area, so a person who wants to become a pediatric optometrist must pursue this post-doctoral work. One to three years is the minimum amount of specialization study. Completion of this work, including clinical studies and case study submission, qualifies the optometrist to sit for additional examinations in pediatric optometry to become board certified in the specialization.
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