Optometrist Scope of Practice


optometry visit

As of March 31, 2021, this page is no longer actively maintained. Please visit NCSL’s Scope of Practice Policy website for the most up-to-date information.

The nation had 37,240 practicing optometrists as of May 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Optometrists are state-licensed primary health care professionals who specialize in eye health. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat and manage various conditions of the visual system and associated structures including diseases, injuries and disorders.

Optometrists perform specified surgical procedures and prescribe medication, visual rehabilitation and corrective lenses.  Optometrists complete an undergraduate degree as well as four years of professional education at a school of optometry.

The information on this site focuses on three areas of scope of practice for optometrists: practice authority, prescriptive authority and surgical authority.

  • Practice authority can be defined as an optometrist’s ability to perform procedures that fall within their scope of practice, as determined by the state board of optometry. Procedures that may fall under an optometrist’s scope of practice include foreign body removal, advanced surgical procedures and other state authorized procedures. According to data from the American Optometric Association, four states— Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma—allow optometrists to perform all procedures outlined in their education and training.
  • Prescriptive authority refers to whether an optometrist can prescribe certain medications and classifications of controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration determines the classifications of controlled substances.
  • Surgical authority refers to the surgical procedures an optometrist can provide in treatment of the orbital structures for tear production and drainage, also known as the lacrimal system. Five states allow for foreign body removal, also referred to as lumps and bumps treatment. Four states allow advanced surgical authority, meaning optometrists have laser privileges beyond foreign body removal. Ten states allow optometrists to perform additional surgical procedures as authorized by a state’s board of optometry.

The following maps present these three policy areas for all states and territories.


United States map of Optometrist scope of pratice


United States map of Prescription controlled substances


United States map of Surgical Authority of optometrists


The American Optometric Association has developed pediatric guidelines outlining how eye exams for children can help them perform better in school.