How do I Become an Ophthalmologist?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

An ophthalmologist is a licensed medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) who takes further specialty training in order to treat most disorders affecting the eyes. This is not the same as an optometrist. An optometrist is still a highly trained individual who receives an OD or Doctor of Optometry degree, but he or she is not a medical doctor, and can’t practice others forms of medical care or treatment. Those who want to become an ophthalmologist must expect to complete medical school first, and become a licensed doctor before they can specialize in ophthalmology.

Graduating medical school is a requirement to become an ophthalmologist.
Graduating medical school is a requirement to become an ophthalmologist.

There may be slightly different routes to this specialty, depending on the country in which a person trains and practices. In places like the US, the first step to become an ophthalmologist is to head to college and usually earn a bachelor’s in science degree. This typically takes four years, though some people can complete their studies in three years, and others may take five years to get a degree. Common majors include those in the sciences and in pre-med.

An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in eye care.
An ophthalmologist is a doctor who specializes in eye care.

In late junior year or early senior year, students must begin the process of applying to medical schools and this begins by taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). This test can require a significant amount of study, as high scores paired with good grades tend to increases chances of getting into a medical school. Provided a person is accepted to medical school, they will spend three to four more years studying prior to a one-year residency/training requirement that ultimately gets them licensure as a doctor.

Most ophthalmologists have spent at least eight years in medical school.
Most ophthalmologists have spent at least eight years in medical school.

In this last year of training, a student that wants to become an ophthalmologist begins looking for residency programs so they can focus on their specialty. Most residency programs from ophthalmology take at least three years, and there are many subspecialties that people may want to become expert in, that can take a year or more of extra training. These can include reconstructive eye surgery, glaucoma treatment, and pediatric ophthalmology, to name just a few.

Ophthalomologists are typically required to attend continuing education classes regularly in order to maintain their license.
Ophthalomologists are typically required to attend continuing education classes regularly in order to maintain their license.

Once training is completed to become an ophthalmologist, people have one more step. They must become board certified in the specialty. Requirements for board certification may vary in various states or in different countries. It’s important to stay current on what will be required to obtain and retain certification, but these details are usually covered in ophthalmology residencies and fellowships.

Opthalmologists should know how to use specialized devices to examine the eyes and conduct vision tests.
Opthalmologists should know how to use specialized devices to examine the eyes and conduct vision tests.

The total time required to become an ophthalmologist is usually about 12 years, and longer if subspecialties are pursued. Ophthalmologists usually also have continuing education requirements. They may need to take additional classes every few years to maintain their licenses.

Ophthalmologists are qualified to perform eye surgery.
Ophthalmologists are qualified to perform eye surgery.
Ophthalmologists are licensed physicians who are board certified in their area of medical expertise.
Ophthalmologists are licensed physicians who are board certified in their area of medical expertise.
Some ophthalmologists specialize in vision correction procedures such as LASIK.
Some ophthalmologists specialize in vision correction procedures such as LASIK.
An ophthalmologist may specialize in treating geriatric patients.
An ophthalmologist may specialize in treating geriatric patients.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Melonlity
An ophthalmologist is is to an optometrist as a psychiatrist is to a psychologist. Both optometrists and psychologists are skilled professionals, but they are not medical doctors. How does one choose which path to go down? It often turns on whether someone wants to treat conditions or have the ability to perform surgery (in the case of the ophthalmologist) or be able to prescribe drugs to correct conditions (in the cases of both ophthalmologists and psychiatrists).

At any rate, the optometrist is the cat who checks you for glaucoma and prescribes prescriptions for glasses or contacts, while the ophthalmologist is the one who can correct your vision with laser surgery. That's quite a difference.

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