Optometry School Vs. Medical School: Which Is Right For You?

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Written by John Reed
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The Optometry School Vs. Medical School debate appears to be an endless one and quite a favorite among applicants.

Which is the better option? How is one different from the other? What exactly do I need to know before making my decision on which program to attend?

Well, this in-depth arctic;e is sure to answer all your questions, helping you once and for all decide between optometry school and medical school. 

Optometry School Vs. Medical School Comparison

Optometry School

Medical School

Entrance Requirements 

Optional Bachelor's Degree

Mandatory Bachelor's Degree

Admission Test



Acceptance Rate



Degree Program

Doctor of Optometry, OD

Doctor of Medicine, MD

School Duration

4 Years

4 Years

Pass Rate




Fairly Tough

Much More Demanding

Surgical Training?



Post-Graduate Residency?



Similarities Between Optometry School And Medical School

1. Prerequisites

Prerequisites for optometry school and medical school are very similar in the sense that you will need to have a very strong science and math background, preferably from a four-year college or university education.

For both Medicine and Optometry, specific prerequisites will vary from school to school. Nevertheless, certain classes and courses are universal and considered mandatory for both optometry and med school. 

The commonly-shared prerequisites include at least one year of the following subjects:

  • Biology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics
  • College Math

That being said, you’d need to check in with your potential school to see whether AP credits and online credits are accepted to complete the set prerequisites.

2. Admission Test

Both optometry and medical schools require aspiring students to sit for and perform well in a  standardized exam.

Medical students have to take the Medical College Admissions Test, MCAT for short, and optometry students take the Optometry Admissions Test, more popularly referred to as the OAT exam.

Both schools have demanding curriculums, and admission is competitive. As such, the respective standardized tests help weed out weak applicants, leaving room for the stronger, more-deserving students.


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3. Similar Classes

In optometry school, you will take many of the same classes as in medical school. These classes include Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology.

That being said, it is worth noting that although the subjects are similar on the surface level, they differ in rigor, depth, and intensity for both optometry and medicine school. That is where the big difference comes in.

Nonetheless, it isn’t uncommon to find first-year MD and OD students sharing some systemic classes in schools where both optometry and medicine programs are offered. Then classes begin to diverge in the second year. 

Additionally, you may even find OD and MD students using the same textbooks initially, such as Robbin’s textbook for Physiology, for instance.

Differences Between Optometry School And Medical School

1. Admission Requirements – Bachelor’s Degree

Just to be clear, not every optometry school would consider an applicant without an undergraduate degree. Some do, and some don’t.

While you simply cannot get into medical school without a Bachelor’s degree, the same cannot necessarily be said for optometry school.

Although a Bachelor’s degree is highly recommended, you can actually successfully gain admission into some select optometry schools without having completed your Bachelor’s degree.

These schools will accept students after 3 years of undergraduate school, provided they meet specific requirements.

How that works is that the optometry school will award you a Bachelor’s degree after your second year and then, ultimately, a Doctor of Optometry after the entire four years. So you end up earning both but in a shorter amount of time.

The thing, though, is that with or without an undergraduate degree, your performance during your undergraduate academic career will play a huge role in determining your entry into a professional optometry program.

So even without a Bachelor’s degree, you will need to have completed all prerequisite courses for optometry school. 

Additionally, more often than not, you also need to have completed the minimum required courses for a bachelor’s degree by the college or university. Meaning you need to have sufficient hours to have had a Bachelor’s.

Ideally, most optometry schools will require you to have more college credit hours if you wish to gain admission without a bachelor’s degree. But the bottom line is that you simply cannot get into medical school without one.

Differences Between Optometry School And Medical School

2. Area of Focus

Optometric education focuses on vision care that specializes in overall eye health. On the other hand, a medical education is meant to provide you with enough knowledge on the whole body so you can treat quite possibly any condition that walks through the door.

So, of course, the scopes are going to be different!

Although optometry and med students may take many of the same classes, there are key differences in how those subjects are covered by either program. In certain subjects, the vigor and intensity of the material are not even close.

In optometry school, you start to focus very quickly on processes related to the eye and the visual system. By contrast, med school students only take a few sessions on the eye.

Optometry’s anatomy and med school anatomy are other areas where you’ll find a big difference. While Gross anatomy in the medical profession involves invasive surgeries, you hardly ever cut tissue or perform eye surgery in optometry.

Med school is much more expansive in what’s covered, going deeper into topics that optometry students simply touch on lightly.

This is not to mean that optometry school is easier than med school, though.

Optometric education goes much deeper into the diverse array of optometric subcategories, including eye diseases, low vision, specialty glasses and contact lenses, vision therapy, etc.

At the same time, it is still crucial for an optometry student to understand all body systems very well. That’s because the eyes can show signs of systemic disease from other parts of the body.

If you perhaps have diabetes, an autoimmune disease, hypertension, or a brain tumor, this will first show up in your eyes. Hence, an optometrist needs to have sufficient knowledge extending beyond eye disease, to recognize that and refer you to a suitable MD.

So the matter here isn’t which is easier or harder. Instead, both programs offer different scopes due to their different areas of focus.

3. Postgraduate Residency Training

In optometry, there is no mandatory postgraduate training one must undertake.

During the 3rd or 4th year of their studies, optometry students take up full-time clinical training as residents. In fact, the 4th year of most optometry programs is entirely clinical, whereby 4th year students can see their own patients but under the supervision of their professors. 

As such, optometry school is designed so that the minute you graduate with your optometry degree, you are a certified eye doctor capable of opening your own practice and seeing your own patients.

Often though, other optometry students wishing to specialize in a field such as vision therapy and rehabilitation or pediatric optometry may typically choose to do a one-year-long residency after optometry school so that they can learn the necessary specialized skills.

Nevertheless, it’s all optional.

On the other hand, after graduating from med school, all medical practitioners must complete no less than four years of residency and internship in a healthcare facility for hospital-based training.

This is a mandatory requirement. 

So, in a nutshell, it takes much longer to be a fully-fledged medical doctor than it takes to be a licensed doctor of optometry. 

Should I Apply To Medical School Or Optometry School?

Both optometry and medical school are very challenging and require a lot of work. So if you are looking to simply cruise by for 4 years, neither will be a suitable option for you.

Granted, medical school is perhaps a little more intense, with voluminous content so much that every free moment you have outside class will only end up being spent studying.

And this intensity is sure to spill over even into your professional life after school.

Should I Apply To Medical School Or Optometry School?

Work-Life Balance

Med school won’t let you have much of a social or even family life, and the same can be said of MDs as well. You’ll often be on call, doing research, or waking up in the wee hours to head to the hospital to get started on the day’s procedures. 

Being an OD allows you to have a somewhat reasonable 9-5 job, but keep in mind that owning your own practice might end up being as demanding as being an MD.

Also, there are some careers in medicine that can be relatively stable, with reasonable working hours. Going into private practice or working in outpatient clinics will, more often than not, allow you to work within reasonable hours, so you get to have quite a bit of free time.

ODs get to have significant interactions with their clients, but the same cannot necessarily be said of MDs.

Professional Freedom

The flip side, though, is that optometry cases can get a little monotonous after a while, so you may no longer experience any interesting challenges that contribute to great career satisfaction. 

After all, if you only seem to sell glasses, then you’d get bored with it all rather quickly.

On the other hand, medical doctors have plenty of freedom to enter pretty much any field and in several different modes of practice. You could get into research, business, law, etc., so chances of things becoming drab and monotonous aren’t that high, really. 

And when you do get bored, you can simply switch things up, finding other, more satisfying medical opportunities elsewhere.

Variety in Scope of Practice

What would you like to do for a career? While optometry is very specific, medicine has a countless number of specialties, so the two vary vastly in the scope of practice. 

The Road is Longer for Med School

Lastly, the road toward becoming an MD is much longer than the one leading toward an OD. You will be an OD in just 4 years after undergraduate school, but becoming an MD takes at least 8 years after your bachelor’s degree. 

Bottom Line…

Perhaps asking yourself the following questions might help to better highlight which of the two options is a better fit for you:

  • How important is a work-life balance to you?
  • What level of career freedom do you desire to have?
  • What do you value most in an occupation?
  • How would you describe career satisfaction?
  • Are you okay with cutting tissue and performing invasive surgeries?

Optometry and medical programs both have their challenges and their future rewards. A good starting point would be to do shadow work in clinics within OD and MD professions so you can best answer the above questions.

Optometry School Vs. Medical School FAQs

Is Optometry School As Hard As Medical School?

Yes, optometry school is definitely as hard as med school.

That being said, though, med school is more intense owing to the sheer volume of material med students are required to learn. 

While med school focuses on the entire human body and systems, optometry school specializes in all matters of vision care which can still be quite challenging.

Do You Go To Med School For Optometry?

No, you do not go to med school for optometry.

Optometrists attend optometry school, while ophthalmologists attend med school. 

Both are eye doctors. However, ophthalmologists are different from optometrists in that they need to possess a fair knowledge of medicine, pharmacology, and surgery. So they are the ones that attend med school, followed by an ophthalmology residency.

Is Optometry School Less Competitive Than Medical School?

Yes, optometry school is less competitive than medical school.

This is because although there are fewer optometry schools than med schools, there aren’t as many students applying to the optometry programs.

This could probably explain why optometry may also have less stringent admission requirements compared to med school, where you need a high GPA, high MCAT scores, and a mandatory bachelor’s degree.

John Reed
The chief editor of TestPrepPal.com. I am an alumni of the university of Pennsylvania and my goal with the website is to help future graduates with their tests.

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