Ophthalmologist Education and Career Facts

As an ophthalmologist, you combine general medicine with precision surgery to improve and preserve the eyesight of your patients. Becoming an ophthalmologist requires completing a demanding course of training. Learn the career outlook for ophthalmologists, along with licensure requirements. Schools offering Optician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye care. Conversely, an optometrist can perform similar functions to an ophthalmologist; however, optometrists are not licensed to practice medicine and cannot perform surgical procedures. To become a physician specializing in eye care, you must complete a post-medical school osteopathic residency.

Degrees Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree
Career Outlook (2016-2026)* 13% job growth (all physicians and surgeons), faster than average
Median Salary (2018)** $204,648

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Is an Ophthalmologist?

Many people confuse ophthalmologists with optometrists. Optometrists have completed four years of training at optometry schools and can prescribe corrective lenses, perform vision therapy or conduct scientific research. As an ophthalmologist, you may also perform any or all of these functions, but your training would consist of four years of medical school followed by residency training in ophthalmology. In addition to the aforementioned duties, you're also qualified to perform corrective eye surgery, such as removing cataracts. You may choose from several sub-specialties, including:

  • Corneal and external eye disease
  • Ophthalmic plastic surgery
  • Ophthalmic pathology
  • Glaucoma
  • Pediatric ophthalmology

What Education Do I Need?

All aspiring ophthalmologists must complete at least three years of undergraduate education, plus an additional four years of medical training. Some accelerated educational programs allow you to obtain a bachelor's degree and a medical degree in six to seven years rather than eight years. Your undergraduate studies need to include courses in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and English to fulfill your medical school prerequisites. Once you enter medical school, you study biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical laws and ethics, as well as learning how to diagnose and treat illnesses and disorders in a clinical environment.

Residencies in ophthalmology require that you successfully complete a 1-year internship prior to entry. As a resident, you can participate in both classroom instruction and clinical training. You gain experience in performing surgery, providing patient care and performing other medical procedures. You may also be presented with research opportunities. After completing your residency, you may pursue a fellowship to obtain further training in a sub-specialty.

How Do I Become Licensed?

Like all physicians in the United States, ophthalmologists must obtain licenses to practice medicine. After completing medical or osteopathic degree programs, you must pass either the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX).

You may also earn voluntary board certification from the American Board of Ophthalmology (www.abop.org) or American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology (www.aoboo.org). Eligibility requirements include graduating from medical school, earning a medical license, completing a 1-year internship, completing three to four years of a residency in ophthalmology and passing an examination that includes both oral and written components. To maintain board certification, you need to complete continuing education and other requirements.

What Are My Career Prospects?

In July 2018, PayScale.com reported that the majority of ophthalmologists earned between $103,384 - $365,421 per year. Employment of physicians and surgeons in general is expected to increase by 13% between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). While an aging population was expected to increase demand, new technologies that allow physicians to be more productive may temper growth. You may experience the best job prospects if you're willing to work in rural areas or other locations with limited access to specialized medical care.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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