An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor; an optician fits and dispenses eyeglasses and contact lenses. An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats eye diseases. An optician deals with corrective devices, but can’t perform surgery or treat eye disease.
When you go to a chain vision center, the optician is most likely the person fitting your glasses or contact lenses at the counter. An ophthalmologist is more likely to have a private practice or examine you in one of the rooms at a large vision center.
An ophthalmologist prescribes glasses and contact lenses like an optician. She can also write prescriptions for eye medications and perform LASIK and other vision correction surgeries.
Ophthalmologists check visual acuity and perform routine eye examinations. These medical doctors can diagnose glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye diseases. They can note lipid rings that indicate high cholesterol or jaundice that signifies liver problems.
Here’s some information for students considering a career in ophthalmology. We’ve included sections on education, certification, licensing, ophthalmologist salary, and sub-specialties.
You’ll need to get extensive schooling before becoming an ophthalmologist. Earn a bachelor’s degree in biology or another pre-med major for the best chance at getting into medical school. Science-based subjects will serve you better than unrelated majors like art or music.
English and communications courses will help you learn how to write reports and write for research papers and medical journals. Courses in psychology will help you deal with patients more kindly and compassionately.
Some universities offer pre-med majors with laboratory coursework, and classes in anatomy, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. Other recommended courses include:
You can arrange a preceptorship while working towards your bachelor degree. A preceptorship involves observing an excellent physician over time. Choose a doctor with patience, people skills, and a desire to upgrade his or her skills.
Enter an internship program during the summer to assist with medical research in labs, universities, or private companies.
Enter a four-year medical school after receiving your bachelor’s degree. It’s hard to get into medical school. About 80,000 students take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and 20,000 of them are accepted into medical school.
To stand out from the competition, you’ll need a GPA of 3.5 or higher; letters of recommendation, a lab and science GPA of 3.5 or higher, and an MCAT score close to 30. The average MCAT score is 25.2
Medical school graduation is followed by an internship and then a residency. The internship and residency process may last three to eight years. You have to pass a state licensing exam to practice as an ophthalmologist. You should spend at least one year as an intern, and a minimum of three years as a resident.
A direct-care patient internship focusing on emergency medicine, family care, or another specialty is the next step in becoming an ophthalmologist. The internship must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
The one-year internship leads to a residency program that allows you to get firsthand patient experience in ophthalmology. The graduated residency program usually lasts three or four years. The Accreditation Council must accredit the residency for Graduate Medical Education. The residency must last at least 36 months to be certified.
You will encounter many ophthalmic subspecialties as well as routine eye exams and care. Residency programs also include lectures and seminars for students to learn about the newest treatments in the field.
You must pass the United State Medical License Exam and any exams your state requires before you can start or join an ophthalmology practice. You’ll also undergo ethical and legal screening. Every state has slightly different requirements regarding residencies and internships needed before licensing.
Step One of the US Licensing Exam consists of the following subjects:
Step Two of the test determines if you have the clinical skills to continue medical training without supervision.
You can take a certification exam from the American Board of Ophthalmology after you’ve taken the USMLE. You must obtain your certification no later than seven years after you graduate from medical school.
You can work as an ophthalmologist without a certification, but your employment prospect will improve if you have one.
The American Board of Ophthalmology was the first medical specialty board in the US. The certification issued by this organization is the only one recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).
You’ll need to meet specific medical training requirements in the field of ophthalmology, and complete one written and one oral exam. Ophthalmologists also need to sign a pledge to practice medicine with respect, integrity, and compassion.
You’ll receive a certificate and be on the boards for ten years. Renew your certificate by continuing to learn new techniques through the Board’s Maintenance of Certification process.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE STUDYING OPHTHALMOLOGY
An ophthalmologist does more than examine eyes and prescribe eyeglasses. She also performs surgery and corrective procedures like LASIK. You’ll spend four days a week in the office examining patients and prescribing glasses or contacts.
The average American ophthalmologist spends one day a week performing cataract surgery (the most common procedure) or other operations. Most ophthalmologists see about 100 patients a week.
Most ophthalmologists spend between 30 and 40 hours per week seeing patients. About a quarter of ophthalmologists spend 41 to 45 hours a week seeing patients.
According to a survey, 42 percent of ophthalmologists spend between nine and 12 minutes with patients. Slightly over a quarter of ophthalmologists spent 13 to 16 minutes with each patient.
You’ll interact with other physicians as well as patients. Some diseases, such as diabetes, affect eyesight. You will work closely with other doctors to treat and manage these diseases.
An ophthalmologist salary is quite competitive, especially if you’ve attended a top-tier medical school or have specialty certification.
You should be aware that you’ll treat patients with diseases that threaten their vision. These patients fear that they are going blind. The prospect of treating patients who may become blind makes office visits highly emotional for some people. You’ll need to be compassionate and understanding if patients become frustrated.
Ophthalmology students need fine motor skills, excellent color vision, and superior depth perception. Choose another field if you lack these attributes. Reduced ability in these areas interferes with effective use of the indirect ophthalmoscope, operating microscope and other ophthalmic instruments.
You may treat ocular cancer or prefer general eye exams during your workday. Ophthalmologists may help young patients strengthen their eye muscles to correct strabismus (crossed eyes), or perform laser treatments or surgery for retinal diseases.
Some ophthalmologists perform corneal transports or reconstructive surgery on the eyelids, face or the lacrimal (drainage system) of the eyes.
You’ll learn to perform micro-surgeries with sutures and materials that you can’t see without the use of special equipment.
Most general ophthalmologists perform mostly glaucoma and cataract surgery.
You can specialize in one of the following areas if you receive a fellowship and/or one or two years of extra training.
Pediatric ophthalmology involves performing eye surgery on children. You will learn how to perform surgery on crossed eyes (strabismus surgery), intraocular surgery, and delicate surgery on eye muscles. This specialty requires a one-year fellowship.
You’ll also need a one-year fellowship to study glaucoma treatment as a specialty. This specialty involves diseases that cause visual field loss and optical nerve damage.
The retina/uveitis sub-specialty involves inflammatory or systemic diseases of the posterior eye. You’ll learn how to treat retinal detachments, diabetic retinopathy, and other conditions. This specialty requires a two-year fellowship and mastery of complicated microsurgical techniques.
Study for one more year to become a specialist in highly detailed neuro-ophthalmology. This specialty deals with neurological diseases of the eye. You’ll study visual pathways, neurological diseases with visual manifestations, eye-movement patterns, and similar subjects.
A two-year fellowship for ophthalmic plastic surgery deals with aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. You’ll learn how to perform surgery on the eyelids, orbit, face, and lacrimal system. You’ll learn to remove orbit tumors and repair bony fractures on the face and periorbital area. You’ll also master removing tumors on the surface of the eye.
A cornea/anterior segment specialist learns refractive eye surgery and corneal transplantation. A fellowship in this specialty lasts one or two years.
Most ophthalmologists make slightly under $200,000 a year. Experienced ophthalmologists make $300,000 or more yearly. Hospitals pay less than private offices.
Single specialty group practices pay the most at $325,000 yearly. A solo office practice pays $291,000 per year, and military or government positions pay $208,000 a year. Hospitals pay $177,000 a year. An outpatient clinic pays the least at $159,000 a year.
Doctors in the Great Lakes region make an average ophthalmologist salary of $333,000 a year. Ophthalmologists in the Southwest make the least at $239,000 yearly, on average. Job growth is expected to be 15 percent over the next decade.