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AGLO 1971 No. 55 - April 30, 1971
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
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                                                                  March 30, 1971


Honorable James A. McDermott

State Representative, 43rd Dist.

Legislative Building

Olympia, Washington 98501                                                        Cite as:  AGLO 1971 No. 55 (not official)


Dear Representative McDermott:

            This is in response to two questions you have raised concerning the optometry act, chapter 18.53 RCW.  First, you have inquired as to the legal distinction between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist as contained in chapter 18.53 RCW.  Secondly, you have inquired as to the meaning of the phrase in RCW 18.53.010, "ascertain the refractive, muscular or pathological thereof;" (particularly with reference to the word "ascertain" as it pertains to "pathological").


            The title "ophthalmologist" is not defined in statute nor is any specific reference made to the term.  The generally accepted definition of an ophthalmologist is a physician specializing in the study and treatment of defects and diseases of the eye.  Thus, in Washington a practicing ophthalmologist is licensed under chapter 18.71 RCW as a physician and surgeon, commonly referred to as an M.D.  With the foregoing in mind, it can be seen by the explicit provisions of RCW 18.53.040 that with the exception of RCW 18.53.140 (10) ‑ 18.53.140 (15) none of the provisions of chapter 18.53 RCW, governing the practice of optometry, apply to ophthalmologists who are licensed under chapter 18.71 RCW.  The exemption above referred to means that there is nothing in the law prohibiting an ophthalmologist from rendering the services that can be rendered by an optometrist under chapter 18.53 RCW.  The fact that the ophthalmologist can render the same services as rendered by an optometrist is further reflected by the provisions of the dispensing optician act, chapter 18.34 RCW.  In RCW 18.34.060 the filling of written prescriptions from physicians or optometrists is authorized by dispensing opticians.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Thus, in answer to your first question, an ophthamologist who is licensed under chapter 18.71 RCW can render the same services as are rendered by an optometrist.  Furthermore, the ophthamologist may also engage in the practice of medicine and surgery as defined in RCW 18.71.010 (1):

            "(1) The practice of medicine and surgery consists of the use of drugs or medicinal preparations in or upon human beings, severing or penetrating the tissues of human beings, and the use of any and all other methods in the treatment of diseases, injuries, deformities, or other physical or mental conditions, but shall not include the practice of chiropractic as defined in RCW 18.25.030."

            Your second question relates to the definition of "optometry" under RCW 18.53.010.  That statute includes within the definition a person "who shall make in any manner a test or examination of the eye or eyes of another, to ascertain the refractive, muscular or pathological condition thereof;".  The "pathological condition" of course relates to the question of whether there is any tissue disease.  While the optometrist under this language is authorized in the course of his eye examination to consider the possibility of pathological condition, he is not authorized to affirmatively take those steps which would constitute the practice of medicine or surgery to alleviate the pathological condition.  The reference to the practice of medicine and surgery is that defined in RCW 18.71.010, supra.

            We trust the foregoing answers your inquiries.

Very truly yours,


Edward B. Mackie

Deputy Attorney General

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