Ophthalmologist Career Profile

Optician examining patient's vision
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An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor, a physician with an M.D. or D.O. degree from an accredited medical school. Like all physicians, an ophthalmologist completes extensive post-graduate residency clinical training after graduating from medical school. An ophthalmologist specializes in medical treatment or surgery of the eyes. Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat any and all eye problems with a variety of remedies including prescribing drugs, performing surgery, or prescribing visual correction devices such as contacts or eyeglasses.

Ophthalmologists treat a wide variety of eye problems from common vision deficiencies to more serious conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or cancers of the eyes.

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist vs. Optician

An optometrist is an eye doctor who has earned the Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. Optometrists examine eyes for both vision and health problems and correct refractive errors by prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. Some optometrists also provide low vision care and vision therapy.

Optometrists in the United States also are licensed to prescribe medications to treat certain eye problems and diseases. The scope of medical care that can be provided by optometrists is determined by state law. Optometrists also may participate in your pre- and post-operative care if you have eye surgery performed by an ophthalmologist. 

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or an osteopathic doctor (DO) who specializes in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Whereas the education of an optometrist is similar to that of a general dentist, the education and training of an ophthalmologist are more similar to that of an oral surgeon.

An optician is not an eye doctor, but opticians are an important part of the eye care team. Opticians use prescriptions written by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist to fit and sell eyeglasses and other eyewear.

In some states, opticians must complete an optician training program and be licensed. Other states don't require opticians to obtain formal training or licensure. Some states allow opticians to fit contact lenses, usually after completing a certification program.

Average Salary

Like other physicians, ophthalmologists can open their own private practice as a solo practitioner or with other physician partners. They can also work as an employee of a clinic, hospital or group practice.

According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), the average annual income for an ophthalmologist is $349,766.

Educational Requirements

As with all medical doctors, being an ophthalmologist requires:

  • 4 years of undergraduate college for a bachelor's degree
  • 4 years of medical school for a medical degree (MD or DO)
  • 3 years of medical residency training in ophthalmology

Additionally, one may also complete additional fellowship training in oncology, surgery, or retina surgery, among other options.

Job Duties and Responsibilities

Ophthalmology is one of many different medical specialties for physicians. Therefore, like other physicians, ophthalmologists can expect to spend part of their work hours in an office setting examining and treating patients with procedures and medication, and some time may be spent in an operating room or surgicenter performing eye surgery. 

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