Skip to main content Skip to footer

How to become an optometrist

To become an optometrist, you’ll need to complete an integrated master's degree programme at SCQF level 11.

What is an optometrist?

Optometrists are healthcare professionals and must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC) to work in the UK. They examine the internal and external structure of our eyes to:

  • test a person’s vision
  • check for vision defects and abnormalities
  • identify signs of injury
  • diagnose and manage a range of ocular conditions
  • detect problems with a person’s general health

Optometrists prescribe and fit glasses, contact lenses, and low-vision aids and, if trained to do so, medicines to treat eye conditions. They can also refer people to other healthcare professionals for further investigations if necessary.

Starting your career as an optometrist

Choosing subjects at school

If you’re interested in a career as an optometrist, useful school subjects include:

  • Biology
  • Maths
  • English
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

To become an optometrist, you’ll need a master's degree. A list of approved integrated master's degree programmes is available on the GOC website.

As a student, you must register with the GOC. You’ll also need to join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme, managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Placement programmes

New optometrist qualifications are being introduced across the UK, including work-based learning as part of the degree programme. The current post-graduate Scheme for Registration will be phased out over time.

There are 2 placement programmes for optometry master’s degree students running throughout the UK:

The FTY will be followed by those studying at universities in Scotland, while CLiP will be followed by those studying elsewhere.

Whichever programme you undertake, you’ll develop your skills and knowledge while you prepare for employment as an optometrist. 

General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) competency certificate

As a newly qualified optometrist, you must register professionally with the GOC. If you wish to join an ophthalmic list in Scotland, you’ll also need to apply for a GOS competency certificate from NHS Education for Scotland. You’ll then be ready to apply for optometrist vacancies.

Get to know the role

As an optometrist, you’ll test for, detect, diagnose, and treat eye health conditions, such as:

  • glaucoma
  • age-related macular degeneration
  • cataracts
  • diabetic retinopathy

You’ll assess a person’s eye coordination and check their ability to focus and see depth and colour. You’ll also prescribe and fit glasses, contact lenses, and low-vision aids for people who need them. If trained to do so, you’ll also prescribe medicines to treat eye conditions.

Some typical tasks include:

  • Carry out routine and complex refraction tests to assess a person’s eye health and measure their prescription for glasses or contact lenses.
  • Prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses and provide aftercare management advice.
  • Use investigative techniques to monitor or screen for ocular diseases.
  • Supervise optometry students on placement.
  • Refer people to other health care professionals  when emergency or specialist care is needed.

You'll need these skills:

  • communicating
  • collaborating
  • focussing
  • initiative
  • critical thinking
  • sense-making
  • information sourcing
  • leading
  • empathy

As an optometrist, you’ll work with:

  • optical assistants
  • dispensing opticians
  • ophthalmologists
  • orthoptists
  • ophthalmic nurses
  • pharmacists
  • GPs
  • rehabilitation workers

Optometrists work in various settings, including:

  • high street practices
  • peoples’ homes
  • hospitals
  • other health settings

You could also work in industry, education, or academia.

In the NHS, you’ll work in eye hospitals and outpatient eye clinics for conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or low vision.

Learning and development

While working as a qualified optometrist, you’ll need to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a statutory requirement for maintaining your registration with the GOC. Registration must be renewed annually for as long as you want to practise in the UK.

NES provides support and mandatory training courses for optometrists who provide care under the NHS General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) contract.

Find out more about optometric training programmes delivered by NES.

Career progression

Once you’ve qualified as an optometrist and gained professional experience, you could do some specialist training.

Independent prescribing

An independent prescribing qualification will enable you to:

  • assess, diagnose, and manage a patient’s care
  • prescribe medication for eye conditions

Independent prescribing will be embedded in the optometry courses delivered in Scotland from September 2024 onwards.

Find out more about independent prescribing courses.

Higher qualifications

Higher qualifications will help you develop new knowledge and skills to enhance eye care services or provide opportunities for career progression. There are 5 subject areas:

  • Contact lens practice
  • Glaucoma
  • Low vision
  • Medical Retina
  • Paediatric eye care

These qualifications are accredited by the College of Optometrists.

Postgraduate degree in Primary Care Ophthalmology

The MSc in Primary Care Ophthalmology was developed in partnership between NES, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), and the University of Edinburgh. The programme will enhance your knowledge and skills in the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of eye disease and prepare you for roles in:

  • advanced clinical practice
  • academia
  • research

Find out more about the MSc in Primary Care Ophthalmology.

Professional bodies

To work in the UK as a qualified optometrist, you must maintain your registration with the General Optical Council (GOC).

You can also join the following organisations:

You can also join Optometry Scotland, the representative body for dispensing opticians and optometrists in Scotland.

Find out more about Optometry Scotland.

Navigate page

Help with recruitment

Help with recruitment

We'll guide you through the recruitment process, from applying online to interview preparation.

Help with recruitment

NHSScotland Careers blog

Our blog includes how-to guides, case studies, and career resources.

Discover more