Optometry [Gk optos, "visible" and metron, "measure"] is the profession of examining eyes for faults of refraction, ocular mobility and visual perception and of the treatment of abnormal conditions with correctional lenses and orthoptics. The royal charter signed by Charles I of England (1629), which conferred the responsibility for the quality of spectacles and the training of apprentices upon "The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers," has been continually renewed by successive monarchs to the present. The word "optometrist," however, originated in the US in the mid-19th century and has been in general and legal use since about 1880.
Optometrists were first trained through apprenticeships. Later they attended proprietary schools which provided theoretical education, while practising optometrists provided clinical training. Neither the quality nor the quantity of the programs of such schools or of the clinical training were controlled. University programs, which included didactic, laboratory and clinical education, first became available in 1925. Recently, optometric education has been increasingly integrated with other health-science programs, particularly at the clinical training stage. In North America all programs of optometric education are accredited by the Council on Optometric Education of the American Optometric Association.
Two Canadian universities, Montréal and Waterloo, have schools of optometry. Some 40 students graduate from U de M annually, about 60-70 from Waterloo. Both Canadian schools are accredited by the council. Entry to these programs requires a minimum of 2 years basic science education at a university. The professional programs are 4 years in length. Graduates may enter practice after graduation without serving an internship, but all Canadian provinces require that they pass a provincially administered licensing examination. Graduate education in visual science (physiological optics) to the level of the master of science degree is available at both U de M and Waterloo. In addition, Waterloo offers a doctoral program in visual science. In the late 1980s the faculties of both schools were contributing new knowledge of visual function through fundamental and clinical vision research programs.
In each province, optometry Acts or health-care legislation confer a self-governing status on the profession. Optometric associations in each province are organized to promote ethical practice and the continuing education of members, to provide for the welfare of the profession's membership and to negotiate fees with governments under the medicare legislation. Continuing education of optometrists is required by law in a majority of Canadian provinces. The Canadian Association of Optometrists, a national body, is a confederation of the 10 provincial associations.
Optometry graduates may establish their own practices, but there is a trend toward group practice. There is also a trend toward specialization in areas such as contact-lens care, low-vision care, pediatrics, geriatrics, electrodiagnosis, ultrasound diagnosis, orthoptics and visual training. Optometrists concerned with occupational health are trained to assess work environments to identify hazards to eyes and vision. They may plan, implement and administrate eye-protection programs, establish vision standards for various types of work, and assist in planning visually efficient work and recreation environments.