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An optometrist is a licensed professional that has completed a minimum of three years of undergraduate work followed by a four year program in a school of optometry culminating in a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. He or she is concerned with eye health and conducts screenings and exams to help patients maintain optimal visual health. An Air Force optometrist performs the same tasks as a civilian OD, but works as a member of the armed forces, and patients are either service personnel or members of their immediate families.
One of the most common tasks of an Air Force optometrist is to perform routine eye examinations for all personnel, some of whom are pilots, though most are not. These exams typically test for visual acuity and include checks for peripheral vision and screenings for health problems such as glaucoma. If an irregularity is found the Air Force optometrist will either treat the condition or refer the patient to the appropriate specialist. Often all that is needed is corrective lenses, which the Air Force optometrist can prescribe.
The doctor also evaluates and treats many eye health problems, including infections such as pink eye and injuries to the eyes. Screenings may catch more general health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure, and the Air Force optometrist must be able to recognize these and refer the patient to another physician for the appropriate treatment. An OD can prescribe medication to treat various problems, but surgery is performed by an ophthalmologist, not an optometrist, so cases requiring this level of intervention are referred to an Air Force ophthalmologist.
An Air Force optometrist must have received an OD from an accredited school of optometry in the United States or Canada and must also be licensed to practice within the United States or one of its territories. The doctor becomes a commissioned officer upon entering the military and is given the appropriate pay and benefits. He or she must complete a five-week long program that emphasizes physical health, adjustment to military life, and how the military healthcare system operates before beginning practice as an Air Force optometrist.
Working as part of the armed forces is ideal for many optometrists, especially for those just out of school. There are no startup costs, no capital expenses, no office to run, and no payroll to manage. The Air Force provides all equipment and supplies as well as support personnel and patients, and all the Air Force optometrist needs to focus on is providing eye care for airmen and their families. Upon leaving the military he or she is likely to be in a better position to go into private practice or to join an existing practice as an experienced OD
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