Our program

Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science offers an accredited, professional, 4 year Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. The School is the only provider of English-language instruction for optometry in Canada (the only French-language school is the École d'Optométrie at the Université de Montréal).  

Fast facts

  • The School of Optometry was established at Waterloo in 1967. Now called the School of Optometry and Vision Science.
  • Number of alumni: 2,262 and growing

Frequently asked questions

Q: How many years are required to complete the Doctor of Optometry program at Waterloo?

A: The program is 4 years, beginning in September of each year. Before that, 3 years of prerequisite, university science courses are needed.

Q: Will I be able to get any hands-on experience during my studies at the School of Optometry?

A: Yes; starting in your third year, you will be interning in the various clinics within the School. In addition, the programs’ fourth year consists of three 4-month terms called clerkships.  The Optometry Clerkship is designed to provide an enhanced clinical experience for final year (4th professional year) optometry students in preparation for practice within Canada.

The program

As an Optometry student, you will enjoy a leading university that attracts award-winning professors along with some of the best and brightest students from around the world. Standards for students and for teaching are set very high. Licensed ODs make up the body of expert faculty and clinic supervisors who provide an optimum mix of theoretical study and practical training.

Throughout the four years, you’ll take courses that cover visual optics, visual neurophysiology, and clinical techniques along with the health and diseases of the human visual system. OD students study cell and molecular biology, pharmacology, genetics, epidemiology, clinical technology, ethics and practice management. In the first two years, you’ll build a base of knowledge in the basic sciences of health, disease, optics and visual sciences. As well, you are introduced to procedures and behaviour training in preparation for clinical practice.

Patient contact begins in third year. Coursework continues and you begin the study and analyses of diverse real-life case examples. During the 3rd and 4th years, the emphasis shifts increasingly to clinical training. Internships include rotations through the School's primary care and specialty clinics; binocular vision, contact lenses, electrodiagnostics, low vision, ocular health and sports vision. At the same time, students are exposed to special populations such as paediatric, geriatric and developmentally disabled patients.

The program’s fourth year consists of three 4-month terms called clerkships (one full year, starting immediately after the end of 3rd year; i.e. no summer break).  The Optometry Clerkship is designed to provide an enhanced clinical experience for final year (4th professional year) optometry students in preparation for practice within Canada. Students are required to complete two fifteen week clerkship semesters, in a variety of approved clinics within Canada and the United States.

The primary goal of the Optometry Clerkship is to provide the student with hands-on clinical experience. Specifically, clerkships are designed to enhance the student’s clinical techniques, diagnosis and management skills, through the application of previously learned concepts and under the guidance of a registered optometrist.  

Upon graduation, you will be prepared for the licensing exams and equipped for emerging technologies and techniques.

An accelerated Doctor of Optometry/Master of Science program is offered allowing you to work towards both degrees in an accelerated fashion. Details can be found at Doctor of Optometry/Master of Science Program. Our students are also offered additional schooling if they wish to obtain a Masters (MSc) or Doctoral (PhD) degree in Vision Science.

The School culture

While studying at the School you will enjoy an intimate, resource rich community. This close-knit network cultivates friendships as 90 peers enter the program at the same time and travel through all four years as a fellowship. Across all four years, you'll develop a supportive rapport with the professors and lecturers, most of whom are also professional ODs, and the other Optometry students. You will study together while enrolled in the same courses, with the same textbooks, and the same assignments and labs. You will share a common building with its class rooms, lounges, computer rooms, and Learning Resource Centre. There exists ready access to the expertise of upper year students. A mentor program pairs first year students with second year "big sisters" and "big brothers". There are formal and informal social events to enjoy such as dances, road trips, and sports (both watching and playing). Direct contact with the eye care industry is established through equipment vendors and industry sponsored lectures. In all, an excellent environment to build a profession.

As precursors to the professional associations you'll join as practising ODs, you'll have the opportunity to join any of the undergraduate student associations within Optometry. The student associations plan activities, attend events, and raise awareness of the optometry profession within Canada and around the world.

Your future

The scope of optometric practice is changing dramatically, expanding in areas such as advanced diagnostics as well as pharmaceutical therapeutics. Add changing demographics and an aging population and the demand for optometrists with a Canadian education has never been greater. With a Doctor of Optometry degree from Waterloo, you'll have world-class education with the necessary skills and knowledge to enjoy a successful optometric career. As a graduate from our program, you'll have the opportunity to start your own practice or to join or purchase an existing practice. Our alumni have also gone on to distinguished careers in university, college, and health care environments.