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What It Takes to be an Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that specializes in medical and surgical problems of the eye. Most obtain a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO, degree. This health care professional deals with everything from diagnosing eye diseases and conditions to vision care choices like using Proclear Toric contact lenses.

Since an ophthalmologist is a physician, the academic and professional requirements for this career are rigorous. If you are considering this field, you will finish an undergraduate program, attend medical school and complete an internship, residency and possibly a fellowship program before hanging out your shingle

Undergraduate Requirements

An ophthalmologist candidate spends three to four years obtaining an undergraduate degree before entering medical school. There are no specific requirements regarding undergraduate studies other than you must have a bachelor’s degree to apply for medical school. All candidates must also complete undergraduate courses in:

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

  • Mathematics

  • English

Some medical schools also require credits in humanities and social sciences.

Medical School

To apply to a medical school, candidates submit transcripts from their academic career and also sit for the Medical College Admission Test, MCAT. Most schools require letters of recommendation, as well. They will likely be an interview with the admissions committee of the school.

The first two years of medical school involve laboratory and classroom work, as well as some practical experience. The last two years are spent working under the supervision of physicians at teaching hospitals and clinics. After completing medical school, candidates take board certification exams before moving on to their residency.

Residency Training

All physicians, including ophthalmologists, complete four years of residency training. This includes one year as an intern doing rotations through various services. Ophthalmologists are generally trained in residency programs that are board-certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology or the American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. So if you received your biology degree in PA, for example, you may be required to complete rotations in other states as well as Pennsylvania to receive your license.

Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist

It is through residency training that ophthalmologist students learn all the nuisances of their profession. They interact with patients, perform exams and make a diagnosis. When your specialty is ophthalmology, your focus is on vision and eye health. This means you work closely with other eye care professionals such as an optometrist to create care plans that may include corrective lenses like the Proclear Toric contact lenses.

An optometrist, or Doctor of Optometry, treats vision conditions such as farsightedness or astigmatism, usually by fitting the patient with corrective lenses. Like an ophthalmologist, an optometrist is trained to recognize diseases of the eye, but may refer the patient to an ophthalmologist for specialty care if necessary. Optometrists are not medical doctors, but many can prescribe medications as part of their vision care plan if it involves a condition that affects vision such as macular degeneration.

Ophthalmologists focus more on surgical interventions for eye care and complex medical problems. They perform surgeries like Lasik to correct vision deficits, as well.

Subspecialties in Ophthalmology

There are a number of subspecialties available to an ophthalmologist. They require additional training. Some subspecialties to consider include:

  • Pediatric Ophthalmology – handles children

  • Medical retina – deals with disease of the retina

  • Ocular Oncology – eye cancer specialist

  • Oculoplastics – cosmetic and plastic surgery of the eyes or orbit

  • Ophthalmic Pathology – studies diseases of the eye

Continuing Education for Ophthalmologists

As with most healthcare care careers, ophthalmologists must earn continuing education credits to maintain their licensure. This ensures they stay current on the treatments and research. Ophthalmologists can find continuing education programs through professional organizations such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.

It takes many years and lots of hard work to become an ophthalmologist, but it is a rewarding field of study. Physicians that choose this specialty help others maintain their eye health and a result their vision.  


Published inCareers

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