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How Much Do Optometrists Make?

Whether you're an aspiring optometrist or a seasoned pro, we'll cover everything you want to know about your earning potential in this fast-growing field.

2019-10-11

Jar full of coins that's been tipped over
Image via Unsplash.com/Josh Appel

Here’s some good news for optometrists: O.D.s are in high demand -- and will continue to be in high demand -- as the need to care for an aging population continues to grow. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), optometrist jobs are projected to grow by 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, which translates to about 4,000 new jobs that will open up during that time. Optometrists also tend to have high job satisfaction and good work-life balance. The U.S. News & World Report ranks optometry as one of the best healthcare jobs in 2019.

That’s all great information to have, but what you really want to know is what your earning potential could be, right?

Well, your actual salary will depend on a number of different factors, including where you live, your years of experience, your particular work setting (e.g., corporate optometry, private practice), and whether you’re employed or self-employed. To give you a clearer picture of what your earning potential could be in this field, we’ve outlined some of the most important salary-related information you should consider as you plan out your career.

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What’s the Typical Optometrist Starting Salary?

Entry-level O.D.s earn about $99,000 on average, according to PayScale.com. However, starting salaries will naturally vary by location and industry.

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How Much Does an Optometrist Make an Hour?

Data from the BLS shows that the average hourly wage for an optometrist is $57.68, and the median hourly rate is $53.75, as of May 2018.

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How Much Does an Optometrist Make a Year?

According to the BLS, most optometrists earn between $57,480 and $119,980 per year. You can potentially earn more as a self-employed O.D., but as an independent contractor, you’re responsible for paying for your own social security and Medicare taxes, a malpractice insurance policy, and health insurance.

When determining how much you could expect to make, it’s important to consider both average (or “mean”) and median salary figures. That’s because averages can be significantly impacted by “outliers”; in this case, the outliers would be a few optometrists whose salaries are drastically higher or lower than the rest of their peers. On the other hand, the median is the number that’s right smack in the middle of a range of values -- in this case, that means that half of all optometrists make more than that number, and half make less. For this reason, median salary figures can help give you a much more realistic idea of what your earning potential could be. Let’s take a look at the data below.

Average Optometrist Annual Salary

The average salary for an optometrist is $119,980 a year. Optometrists who work in outpatient care centers and physician’s offices typically earn the highest salaries: $138,660 and $137,080, respectively. According to Indeed.com, O.D.s employed by Walmart earn $121,424 per year, on average.

Median Optometrist Annual Salary

The median salary for an optometrist is $111,790 a year, which means that half of optometrists in the U.S. earn more than this amount, and half earn less. The top and bottom percentiles earn $57,480 and $188,160, respectively.

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The 5 Work Settings Where Optometrists Can Make the Most Money

There are a number of different factors that can affect your salary as an optometrist. One, in particular, is the type of work you’re doing. According to BLS data, here are the top five work settings that offer optometrists the highest annual salaries.

The 5 Highest-Paying States for Optometrists

Rank Work Setting Average Hourly Rate for Optometrists Average Annual Salary for Optometrists
1 Outpatient Care Centers $66.67 $138,660
2 Offices of Physicians $65.90 $137,080
3 Management of Companies & Enterprises $60.67 $126,180
4 Health & Personal Care Stores $57.09 $118,740
5 General Medical & Surgical Hospitals $56.10 $116,680

Source: BLS, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2018

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How Much Do Optometrists Make in Each State?

Another factor that can significantly influence an optometrist’s salary is where they live. Typically, states that have a higher cost of living, as well as higher demand for the particular profession, tend to offer higher salaries. This rule appears to hold true for the OT field as well. Here’s a list of the five top-paying states for optometrists.

The 5 Highest-Paying States for Optometrists

Rank State Average Hourly Rate for Optometrists Average Annual Salary for Optometrists
1 Arkansas $88.06 $183,151
2 North Dakota $84.18 $175,090
3 Vermont $82.00 $170,550
4 Alaska $79.64 $165,640
5 South Carolina $68.41 $142,290

Didn’t see your state on that list? Here’s a table with the full set of BLS data on optometrist salaries by state and includes figures for the District of Columbia as well:

How Much Optometrists Make by State

State Average Hourly Rate for Optometrists Average Annual Salary for Optometrists
Alabama $54.84 $114,070
Alaska $79.64 $165,640
Arizona $60.06 $124,920
Arkansas $88.06 $183,151
California $56.34 $117,180
Colorado $63.47 $132,030
Connecticut $66.42 $138,140
Delaware $55.87 $116,210
District of Columbia $43.34 $90,140
Florida $49.07 $102,060
Georgia $50.47 $104,970
Hawaii $56.40 $117,310
Idaho $46.19 $96,070
Illinois $58.47 $121,610
Indiana $54.75 $113,880
Iowa $62.58 $130,160
Kansas $56.65 $117,840
Kentucky $55.07 $114,550
Louisiana $50.17 $104,360
Maine $65.63 $136,510
Maryland $62.02 $129,000
Massachusetts $68.22 $141,890
Michigan $54.06 $112,440
Minnesota $64.55 $134,270
Mississippi $64.12 $133,370
Missouri $54.86 $114,110
Montana $53.06 $110,370
Nebraska $50.00 $104,010
Nevada $61.51 $127,940
New Hampshire $63.07 $131,180
New Jersey $55.11 $114,630
New Mexico $41.76 $86,870
New York $60.01 $124,820
North Carolina $65.51 $136,260
North Dakota $84.18 $175,090
Ohio $63.65 $132,400
Oklahoma $52.55 $109,300
Oregon $47.87 $99,560
Pennsylvania $57.61 $119,820
Rhode Island $50.15 $104,320
South Carolina $68.41 $142,290
South Dakota $46.41 $96,540
Tennessee $55.75 $115,960
Texas $59.58 $123,930
Utah $35.81 $74,490
Vermont $82.00 $170,550
Virginia $62.02 $129,010
Washington $57.62 $119,860
West Virginia $56.86 $118,270
Wisconsin $58.80 $122,310
Wyoming $65.01 $135,220

Source: BLS, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2018

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Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist vs. Optician: What’s the Difference?

The Difference Between Optometrists, Ophthalmologists, & Opticians

Optometrist Ophthalmologist Optician
Job Duties Vision care and eye services Medical and surgical eye care Vision care and eye care services
Education Requirements 3+ years of college, followed by 4 years of optometry school 4 years of college education, followed by at least 8 years of additional medical training 1-2 years of post-secondary education
Degree Doctoral degree (Doctor of Optometry - "O.D.") Doctoral degree (Doctor of Medicine - "M.D." or Doctor of Osteopathy - "D.O.") Post-secondary certificate or associate degree
Average Hourly Wages $57.581 [1] $115.00 [2] $19.20
Average Annual Salary $119,980 [1] $220,235 [2] $39,930

[1] Source: BLS.gov, May 2018
[2] Source: PayScale.com, August 2019

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How Do You Become an Optometrist?

To become an optometrist, you must complete an O.D. degree program. However, before you can apply to one, you must complete at least three years of college education and pass the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT). O.D. programs typically require previous undergraduate coursework in subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, English, and math.

Graduates of optometry school are required to become licensed in the state(s) where they wish to practice, as well as complete the National Board of Examiners in Optometry Exam. Depending on your state, additional exams, continuing education, and periodic license renewal may be required. O.D.s may also choose to become board-certified by the American Board of Optometry.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Optometrist?

Optometrists must complete at least three years of post-secondary education and four years of optometry school. Some O.D.s also complete a one-year residency program after optometry school in a certain area of specialization, such as pediatric optometry, ocular disease and family practice.

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Final Thoughts

While all of this data can seem like a lot to digest, a big takeaway is that optometrists earn about $120,000 per year -- often earning more in outpatient care centers -- and have high job satisfaction overall. The U.S. News and World Report adds that this is a job with low stress, a good work-life balance, and a lot of upward mobility.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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