What you need to know
Ophthalmologists are doctors who are specialists in eye and vision care.
Many ophthalmologists work long, irregular, and overnight hours. Ophthalmologists may travel between their offices and hospitals to care for their patients. While on call, they may need to address a patient’s concerns over the phone or make an emergency visit to a hospital or nursing home.
Some of the things an ophthalmologist might do:
- Interview and examine patients with eye and vision disorders
- Update charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments
- Order tests for healthcare staff to perform
- Prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses
- Review test results to identify any abnormal findings
- Recommend and design a plan of treatment
- Perform eye surgery or prescribe medicine
- Perform scientific research on the causes and cures for eye diseases and vision disorders
- Address concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being
- Help patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene
- Communication skills: Ophthalmologists need to be excellent communicators. They must communicate effectively with their patients and other healthcare support staff.
- Compassion: Patients who are sick or injured may be in extreme pain or distress. Ophthalmologists must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
- Detail oriented: Patients must receive appropriate treatment and medications. Ophthalmologists must accurately monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.
- Dexterity: Ophthalmologists may work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools, and mistakes can have serious consequences.
- Leadership skills: Ophthalmologists who work in their own practice must manage a staff of other professionals.
- Organizational skills: Good recordkeeping and other organizational skills are critical in both medical and business settings.
- Patience. Ophthalmologists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention: Persons who fear medical treatment may require more patience.
- Physical stamina: Ophthalmologists should be comfortable lifting or turning disabled patients, or performing other physical tasks.
- Problem-solving skills: Ophthalmologists need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They need to do this quickly if a patient’s life is threatened.
The average pay for ophthalmologists in the United States is approximately $379,000 according to an annual Medscape survey in 2020.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Overall employment of all physicians and surgeons, including ophthalmologists, is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Prospects should be especially good for ophthalmologists who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas, because these areas tend to have difficulty attracting physicians.
Ophthalmologists typically need a bachelor’s degree, a degree from a medical school, which takes 4 years to complete, and, 3 to 7 years in internship and residency programs.
Medical schools are highly competitive. Most applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. Schools also consider an applicant’s personality, leadership qualities, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most schools require applicants to interview with members of the admissions committee.
Students spend most of the first 2 years of medical school in laboratories and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and in the laws governing medicine. They also gain practical skills; learning to take medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses.
During their last 2 years, medical students work with patients under the supervision of experienced physicians in hospitals and clinics. Through rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery, they gain experience in diagnosing and treating illnesses in a variety of areas.