How to Become an <br>Ophthalmologist

How to Become an

Gabriela Bercenas
By Gabriela Bercenas - Content Strategist
Last Updated: April 20, 2023
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Do you have an interest in helping improve or restore eyesight? Consider a career as an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor with surgical training. This helpful guide teaches you how to become an ophthalmologist by suggesting high school courses, college degrees and skills to develop. We also interviewed a certified ophthalmologist to help give you insight into daily responsibilities and salary expectations.

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What Does an Ophthalmologist Do?

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who diagnose, prevent and treat eye conditions, diseases and illnesses. They differ from optometrists in that they can treat eye diseases and perform surgery on the eyes.

Ophthalmologists may work in medical and clinical settings, such as clinics, hospitals, private practices, colleges and universities. Typical responsibilities of ophthalmologists include:

  • Testing and screening patients’ eyes for problems, diseases and illnesses.

  • Prescribing glasses and contact lenses for patients.

  • Diagnosing and treating vision issues such as astigmatism or glaucoma.

  • Performing eye surgery as needed.

  • Testing patients’ depth, color perception, focus and eye coordination.

  • Administering or prescribing medications to help diagnose and treat specific dye diseases.

How Do You Become an Ophthalmologist?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 3% job growth for physicians and surgeons, which includes ophthalmologists, with 23,8000 projected annual job openings through 2031. The growing older U.S. population demands more ophthalmologists to treat age-related eye problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma. With these optimistic career projections, here’s how to become an ophthalmologist:


Step 1: Earn your diploma or GED

Finishing your high school education is the first step to launching your academic medical career. If you’re interested in ophthalmology, consider prioritizing STEM courses like algebra.


Step 2: Pursue a bachelor’s degree.

To become an ophthalmologist, you can gain medical knowledge during your undergraduate degree. Consider signing up for one of the following majors to develop those relevant skills and pre-med knowledge.

  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Nursing
  • Public health
  • Sports medicine

Step 3: Earn your medical degree.

Before developing the practical surgical skills needed for ophthalmology, you must learn medical essentials. Enroll in a certified medical graduate program.


Step 4: Apply for a one-year ophthalmology internship.

Your first-year internship is a trial run to determine if you have the medical knowledge and practical skills to qualify for your ophthalmology residency. Once you finish your first year, you must pass a written and practical exam to remain in your surgical program.


Step 5: Qualify for a three-year ophthalmology surgical residency.

Once you pass your internship requirements and exams, you can complete your three-year residency to develop eye surgery and microsurgery skills. This residency may also allow you to assist in subspecialties and decide whether to further your education in these specialized areas.


Step 6: Consider an ophthalmology subspecialty fellowship.

You’re fully qualified to enter private practice after you complete your residency and internship. However, you can increase your earning potential and job search qualifications by applying for a surgical fellowship in one of the following ophthalmology subspecialties.

  • Pediatric ophthalmology
  • Strabismus
  • Glaucoma
  • Neuro-ophthalmology
  • Retina concentration
  • Cornea specialty
  • Ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery

Step 7: Earn a medical license when required by the state.

A few states require ophthalmologists to show proof of medical school completion and residency experience. They pass a state-issued exam to acquire a license to practice medicine in the state.


Step 8: Apply to ophthalmologist job openings.

To secure a job as an ophthalmologist, you must compose a professional resume highlighting your educational background, internship and residency experience, and other skills. These ophthalmologist resume samples can help you in perfecting your resume.

When browsing for ophthalmologist job openings, try contacting the doctors and other medical professionals you worked with during your internship and residency for help finding a job.

Ophthalmologists Skills

Although medical training and knowledge are vital to this profession, other personality traits and soft skills are essential to succeed in this role. Ophthalmologists work with a variety of people, both young and old. The following learned and intersocial skills can help them effectively meet their responsibilities.

Effective technical and hard skills:

1Good knowledge of math and physics
2Surgical expertise and training, primarily in cataract and primary glaucoma surgery.
3Specialized surgical knowledge such as pediatric, neuro-ophthalmology or reconstructive surgery.
4Occasionally re-fit eyeglasses and prescribe contact lenses as needed.

Helpful soft skills:

1Hand-eye coordination during surgical procedures and routine eye exams.
2Attention to detail to accurately read medical charts, interpret information and diagnose patients.
3Good communication skills to help explain complicated eye diagnoses and treatment options to patients in a relatable manner.
4Strong people skills to help calm down nervous or panicked patients.
5Managerial skills to effectively lead a team and successful private practice.

Insights from an Ophthalmologist

We contacted Ophthalmologist Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, known as America’s TV Eye Doctor, to provide an inside look into this profession. This is what he shared with us.

What is the common career path for an Ophthalmologist?

After college, there is four years of medical school to become a general doctor. Then one year of internship working in the hospital. Then three years of ophthalmology residency to learn the basics of being an eye doctor and eye surgeon, such as cataract surgery.  I chose to do an additional year of fellowship training in cornea disease and laser vision correction, which has been my specialty since then.

What should someone consider before becoming an Ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmology is a great marriage between medical care and surgical care of patients.  The surgery is often “microsurgery” using a microscope so having steady hands is important and being meticulous is important since the structures we deal with are quite tiny.

What type of person excels in this job?

Someone who is passionate about helping people solve their vision problems. That passion answer really goes for any type of job. If you have passion about what you do, you will enjoy doing it and you will be very good at it.

What are some of the most important skills for an Ophthalmologist to have?

Excellent hand-eye coordination for surgery is important and being a thinker to solve problems that patients have. There is a lot of technology in this field so people who like that aspect will like ophthalmology. It’s important to be a good listener and being open-minded as patients can tell you the answer if you listen for it.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an Ophthalmologist?

The most rewarding aspect of being an ophthalmologist is helping people with Keratoconus, a degenerative disease of the cornea (‘windshield’ part of the eye) with a procedure that I invented called Holcomb C3-R (named after Olympic Gold medal bobsledder Steven Holcomb) that stops the disease from getting worse.  The Holcomb C3-R procedure was the first non-invasive treatment to prevent people from needing invasive and painful cornea transplants.

How Much Do Ophthalmologists Get Paid?

Ophthalmologists typically earn a salary; most physicians and surgeons make a median salary of $187,200 in the United States. The lowest paid Ophthalmologists make $57,800 per year, while the highest paid professionals make well over the median of $187,200.

Top 10 States for Ophthalmologists Salary

    New Hampshire


    North Dakota
















    New Mexico


    Ophthalmologist Resources

    These resources will help you find more information about a career as an Ophthalmologist.

    On the Web

    American College of Surgeons
    Information about choosing a career as an Ophthalmologist.

    American Academy of Ophthalmology
    This site provides education and resources for Ophthalmologists.

    On Twitter

    Job openings for Ophthalmologists.

    Provides professional development help for Ophthalmologists.

    Ophthalmologist Books

    The Ophthalmic Assistant: A Text for Allied and Associated Ophthalmic Personnel, Edition 9
    A guide for procedures, medication and equipment Ophthalmologists need to know about.