Orthoptics

Orthoptists work with ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat disorders related to eye movement. Find salary and job growth information about careers in orthoptics.

Is Orthoptics for Me?

Career Description

From the Greek 'ortho' - meaning straight - and 'optikos' - meaning of or for vision, orthoptics is an allied health profession that involves the study of eye alignment and movement. Orthoptists are eye muscle specialists who use diagnostic tests to evaluate and treat eye problems, including reduced vision (amblyopia), misalignment of the eyes (strabismus), double vision (diplopia) and crossed eyes. As an orthoptist, you interpret test results and implement non-surgical treatment plans, such as patching regimens or eye exercises.

When you work in orthoptics, you are part of an eye-care team. You work under the supervision of an ophthalmologist, who retains ultimate responsibility for patient care. You may act as the liaison between the patient and the eye doctor. You could work in a hospital, medical center or private ophthalmology practice. You might also be involved in local or state vision screening programs. You could also perform clinical research in orthoptics and publish your findings.

In order to work in this field, you typically need a bachelor's degree and two years of clinical education, as well as professional certification. Additionally, to excel in orthoptics, you need sound judgment, commitment to patient welfare and the ability to relate to patients of all ages.

Employment Information

The American Association of Certified Orthoptists (AACO) describes this field as both rewarding and intellectually challenging (www.orthoptics.org). Although orthoptics can include the care of adults, the majority of your patients are likely to be children, because binocular disorders are more common in youth. According to the American Orthoptic Council (AOC), there are many jobs in this field due to a shortage of certified professionals. O*Net OnLine reported in 2012 that orthoptists made a median salary of $72,710 annually (www.onetonline.org).

How Can I Work in Orthoptics?

Education

In order to work in orthoptics, you must complete specialized training through an accredited fellowship program, which typically takes two years and combines didactic instruction with supervised clinical experiences. According to the AACO, about 15 programs exist at universities and medical facilities in the U.S. and Canada. In rare cases, you may be able to complete your clinical orthoptics training while earning your bachelor's degree, in which case you could be ready for certification within four and a half years instead of six.

A bachelor's degree is a common requirement for entry in an orthoptics program. Although a specific undergraduate major isn't generally required, a science major such as biology may be preferred.

Topics of study in an orthoptics program include neuroanatomy of eye movements, eye anatomy and physiology, basic ocular pharmacology, physiologic optics and an introduction to ophthalmology. In an orthoptics program, you learn about diagnostic tests and differential diagnosis. You may evaluate more than 1,500 patients during the course of your 2-year program. Additionally, you may be required to complete an original research project.

Certification

To earn the Certified Orthoptist (C.O.) credential from the AOC, you need to have earned a bachelor's degree and an orthoptics education program, and you must pass a written and practical exam. The exams are offered once a year, and you must complete continuing education requirements to maintain certification.

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