How Much Does an Optometrist Make? A Salary Guide for Optometrists

Just like all other medical professionals, optometrists find themselves struggling with student loan debt and the ever-increasing costs of living after leaving medical school.

As such, the question of how much an optometrist makes becomes a primary concern for all new grad optometrists planning to build a career in the field.

Here, we’ll cover the average optometrist salary, the factors contributing to the differences in optometrist salaries across the United States, and the ongoing trends in wages for optometrists.

Key Takeaways

  • Various sources claim average annual optometrist wages on the national level to be in the $130,000-$200,000 range, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics claiming a $143,000 figure.
  • The salary dramatically varies based on the location, practice setting, experience, and gender.
  • The Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions show the highest average salaries.
  • Multidisciplinary practices are the most lucrative place for optometrists to work in.
  • Senior optometrists with the capital and experience required to open their own private practice have dramatically higher wages.
  • There’s a broad gender gap, with women earning about a third less than men.

How Much Does an Average Optometrist Make in the US?

According to the data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed optometrists in the US made an average of $131,860 per year, as of 2023.

Review of Optometry claims a higher sum, with employed optometrists making $154,963 per year on average.

The Review of Optometry’s analysis claims that self-employed eyecare professionals earn much higher incomes than employed optometrists: the average optometry practice owner makes $232,997 annually.

It also claims that the average annual income for all optometrists is $194,020, with the income earned by private practice owners dramatically improving the overall sum.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a much more conservative estimation, claiming a $143,000 average annual wage.

The trends over the past several years show a steady increase in optometrist income, with pandemic-related drops.

$194,020 is a 12.2% jump compared to the 2022 figure of $172,914 and a 14.98% jump compared to 2018’s $168,740.

Most optometrists pin the increase in income on a higher patient volume compared to previous years.

Related reading: The Complete Guide to Physician Retirement Planning.

What Factors Influence Optometrist Salaries?

Data has shown that optometrist income wildly varies depending on factors other than the type of employment. They include location, practice setting, experience, and gender.

Optometrist Income by Location

The average optometrist’s salary tends to be proportional to the location’s level of demand for optometrist services.

However, this doesn’t mean that metropolitan areas always see higher salaries than rural ones.

An optometrist working in a small town can usually cover the needs of the whole community, effectively enabling them to pursue their work with no market competition.

According to BLS data, the highest average salaries for optometrists are in the Northeast, while Midwestern optometrists struggle with the lowest salaries in the country.

Which States Have the Highest Average Optometrist Salaries?

While the Northeastern region has the highest overall salaries, the highest annual mean wages for optometrists are in North Carolina, at $171,170.

These ten states have the highest average salary:

State Average Salary
North Carolina $171,170
Maryland $166,770
Kentucky $161,300
New Hampshire $161,030
Vermont $153,540
New York $152,450
Texas $152,060
Connecticut $151,270
Arizona $150,690
Alaska $148,460

Which States Have the Lowest Average Optometrist Salaries?

Other than in Puerto Rico (with an average yearly salary worth only $51,410), optometrists earn the least in Idaho, with an average of $104,020 per year.

These are the ten states where optometrists can expect the lowest salaries:

State Average Salary
Nevada $122,610
Nebraska $118,120
Indiana $117,600
Alabama $115,970
Wyoming $115,400
South Dakota $115,290
South Carolina $114,430
Missouri $109,890
Oklahoma $105,720
Idaho $104,020

Optometrist Income by Practice Setting

Practice setting plays a huge role in salary differentiation, with differences in practice settings potentially accounting for variations up to 50% over or under the median salary.

According to surveys conducted by the optometry/ophthalmology portal Eyes on Eyecare, multidisciplinary practices employing both medical doctors and optometrists pay out the most, with an average of $155,306 per year.

On the other side of the spectrum, optometrists working in academia or research make only $104,900 per year on average.

The New England College of Optometry, for example, pays optometrists an average of $105,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.

Despite its middling salaries ($120,405 per year), private practice is still the most popular setting for optometrists, with over 50% of new graduates opting to work in an optometric private practice.

Corporate optometry is a relatively young field that’s quickly growing in importance, so optometrists working in corporate practice frequently find themselves with higher wages compared to the average optometrist salary.

Optometrist Salaries by Practice Setting, Listed:

Here is a list of salaries for each optometrist practice setting:

Practice Setting Average Salary
Medical Doctor + Optometrist Multidisciplinaries $155,306
Hospitals & Health Maintenance Organizations $152,558
Corporations $140,017
Federally Qualified Health Centers $133,250
Community Health Centers $122,500
Private Practices $120,405
Veterans Affairs & Military $115,682
Corporate (Sublease) $111,783
Universities/Research Institutes $104,900

Optometrist Income by Experience

Optometrists’ income widely varies by experience, with senior optometrists earning up to twice as much compared to junior optometrists.

This is primarily because most senior optometrists end up opening their own private practices later in their careers.

According to Zippia’s data, the average starting salary for juniors is $130,000 per year.

Mid-level optometrists earn $187,654 per year on average, while senior-level optometrists earn $269,000 per year.

Optometrist Income by Gender

Unfortunately, gender also dramatically factors into optometrist wages.

The Review of Optometry claims that female optometrists reported an average 2023 income of $151,271, compared to $235,162 for their male counterparts.

This means that female optometrists earn only 64.3% of the male average.

However, this is mainly since way fewer women have their own private practices (only 34.1% of female optometrists, compared to 48.2% of their male counterparts).

Final Thoughts

In general, the average salary for optometrists appears to be on the incline. While this is a good reason to be optimistic, it’s offset by other related statistics.

The number of applications to the American Optometry Association is shrinking by the year, and a smaller percentage of optometrists reporting job and salary satisfaction indicates a general loss of enthusiasm with the career.

This is most likely symptomatic of the general social malaise related to the cost of life and other issues to which optometrists aren’t immune.

In these precarious times, having a specialized financial advisor to help with your money can be a lifesaver.

For more information on financial advice and insurance options for physicians, contact Physicians Thrive now.

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