How to Become an
Ophthalmologist

Ophthalmologist woman looking at patient's eyes through a slit lamp scope

If you are considering a career in the medical field, this article will provide you with the information you need to see what the requirements for becoming an Ophthalmologist are, the projected growth for this profession and estimated pay rates.

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 are able to treat eye diseases and perform surgery on the eyes. Ophthalmologists may work in medical and clinical settings, such as clinics and hospitals, private practices and colleges and universities.

An Ophthalmologist tests and screens patients’ eyes for problems, diseases and illnesses. They prescribe glasses and contact lenses for patients who have vision problems. They also diagnose and treat issues with vision, as well as perform eye surgery. Common responsibilities of Ophthalmologists include:

  • Providing routine care, such as vision tests

  • Prescribing and fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses

  • Performing medical surgery, such as fixing traumatic eye injuries or removing cataracts

Ophthalmologists Skills

Although medical training and knowledge are vital to this profession, there are other personality and soft skills important to succeed in this role. Ophthalmologists work with a variety of people, both young and old; thus, they require good communication skills to explain complicated eye diagnoses and treatment options in a relatable manner. Ophthalmologists need to be able to keep their cool and calm down patients that are nervous, have trouble seeing or are in pain. As most of these professionals work in private practices, they need managerial skills to effectively lead a team and a successful practice.

Other key Ophthalmologist skills include:

  • Good knowledge of math and physics

  • Hand-eye dexterity

  • Detail oriented

How Do You Become an Ophthalmologist?

Education and Training

It takes a certain commitment to become an Ophthalmologist, as the successful completion of medical school as well as three to eight years of internship and residency in a hospital setting is required. Most Ophthalmologists complete a four-year bachelor’s degree followed by an additional four years of medical school to receive a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Most medical schools require applicants to have some form of experience with ophthalmology or optometry, as well as having taken classes in anatomy, science and math.

In addition to completing medical school, an Ophthalmologist needs to obtain a medical license in the state they plan to practice in. After medical school, an Ophthalmologist needs to complete at least three years of ophthalmology residency.

Finding a job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there is a growing demand for physicians and surgeons, which includes Ophthalmologists, predicting a 15 percent growth with 14,510 projected annual job openings through 2024. The growing older US population demands more Ophthalmologists to treat age-related eye problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma.

To secure a job as an Ophthalmologist, you first need to compose a professional resume that highlights your educational background, internship and residency experience as well as other skills. JobHero’s Ophthalmologist resume samples can help you in perfecting your resume.

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

When applying for jobs, in addition to a resume, you need to write a cover letter that will make you stand out from the other applicants. Explain why you are interested in the position and what makes you qualified for this role. JobHero’s cover letter examples can help motivate you to write a great cover letter.

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.

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

@ojonline
Job openings for Ophthalmologists.

@OphthoMag
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.