A few weeks ago, my young nephew, Sam, a senior medical student, asked, “Dr. Ben, why do doctors hate optometrists being called doctors?” I was alarmed.
I had just recovered from a heart attack close to a post I had read a few minutes before, sent by a colleague who told how a doctor had ended the life of his patient who was no longer responding to his treatment. I had come to instant judgment.
“What kind of doctor is he?” He must have been mean and definitely lacking in compassion. How did he get through medical school! He must be nothing but a charlatan? »
I did confirm, at the end of the post, that it was indeed a doctor – a veterinarian – and his patient, a goat! I could have been spared all the swearing and mental torture, if from the start he had been called a veterinarian.
With this experience, I was not going to be the victim of another prank. So I started by asking him: “Who is a doctor? Sam replied, “Anyone with a higher degree – a doctorate (PhD) conferred by the university can be called a ‘doctor’. It can be engineering, law, mathematics, economics, theology, philosophy or any other discipline.
There are, however, a few exceptions. Against the normal course of things, our universities award the title of “doctor” instead of “license” to undergraduate graduates in veterinary medicine and optometry. Thus, veterinarians receive ‘Doctor of Veterinary Medicine’ (DVM) and optometrists, ‘Doctor of Optometry’ (DO).
“And the doctor?” Please note the sequence of words in the preceding sentence. “Medical” comes before “Doctor”. Our universities, in line with other disciplines, give a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery (MB, BS) to doctors as their first degree – not “MD”!
The Doctor of Medicine (MD) is a higher degree equivalent to the doctorate. The title “doctor” does not appear on any doctor’s certificate. It is conferred on the doctor by agreement and is now legally appropriate. There is a long story behind it all! It will be dealt with another day.
But come to think of it, it is, in fact, a very valid question that bothers even commoners, that is, those who do not belong to the medical fraternity. Like the other day I overheard a person asking on the phone that to get Acuvue Oasys lenses, should he see an ophthalmologist or would an optometrist be good enough? I mean, I understand that not everyone knows the differences in their qualifications or their roles. But I think it’s always a good idea to know if an optometrist and an ophthalmologist are the same or not, before commenting or assuming anything!
Medical practice is regulated by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and doctors are also called physicians. No one can legally practice medicine without being registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. Since optometrists are not doctors, they are not licensed to practice medicine.
A veterinarian is a physician by law. An optometrist is a doctor of optometry by law. These degrees are awarded to them by accredited universities in Nigeria and no one can take away these legally conferred degrees.
The bone of contention is therefore the confusion created by the aberrant reference to optometrists as “eye doctors”, instead of the doctor of optometry conferred on them. The only ophthalmologists (or ophthalmologists) are therefore ophthalmologists.
An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in all aspects of eye care, including diagnosis, management of eye disorders and diseases, and intervenes surgically if necessary. You can only become an ophthalmologist after you get your first degree, which gives you the right to be called a doctor.
You then spend another six to eight years (which includes internship, national service, and passing the National Postgraduate Medical College exams) to become an ophthalmologist – an eye specialist (an ophthalmologist). You can also spend an additional one to two years specializing in one of seven divisions of ophthalmology.
According to Nigerian standards, considering the length of time required to complete the program, the minimum age to qualify as an ophthalmologist is 32 years. Only the ophthalmologist can be called an ophthalmologist.
An optometrist, on the other hand, is a medical professional (not a doctor) registered by the Nigerian Council of Optometry to provide optical services, which include identifying vision-related problems requiring correction with optical devices. such as glasses.
Since they have to examine the eyes to be able to do this, they have to encounter eye disorders that cannot be corrected with optical devices which they must refer to ophthalmologists. They are authorized to provide simple, non-invasive primary eye care within the boundaries of the definition of primary care.
However, they have the added benefit that their training exposes them to many eye conditions that they are better able to recognize and refer to the eye doctor for treatment.
For an optometrist to embark on the large-scale treatment of eye diseases is to cross the limit of his training in the field of the medical profession for which he is neither well equipped nor licensed to practice. It would therefore be wrong to call him an ophthalmologist, which is reserved for the ophthalmologist.
Optometrists complete a four-year academic program at the School of Optometry to earn the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. This is a first degree program. They are therefore qualified to be called Doctors of Optometry.
In a well-organized health care system, the optometrist and ophthalmologist must work together with the patient as the focal point. But when there is a cleavage, the discerning patient needs to know where and when to seek better attention to keep their sight.
Patients should insist on referral to an ophthalmologist if they feel their best interests are not being served. Only the ophthalmologist can make a decision after a thorough examination and possibly the necessary investigations. Remember that the eye is a small but important part of the body and often reflects what is going on in the rest of the body.