Ophthalmologist: Employment Info & Requirements

Learn what an ophthalmologist does. Find out what the education and training requirements are for these specialized physicians. Get info on the career prospects and earning potential to decide if this career is right for you.

Career Definition

Ophthalmologists are a specific kind of doctor who treats illness, diseases and conditions that affect the eye. While ophthalmologists can be thought of generically as 'eye doctors' and perform some of the same duties as optometrists, they differ in that ophthalmologists perform eye surgery and treat eye diseases. Ophthalmologists also examine eyes, screen for eye illnesses, and prescribe contact lenses and glasses.

Become an Ophthalmologist

Required Education

Ophthalmologists are a type of physician, and, thus, they are required to earn a medical degree. The process is a lengthy one, with a prospective ophthalmologist having to earn a 4-year bachelor's degree, complete four years of medical school, and 3-8 years of internships and residencies. Common undergraduate programs include pre-med, biology, and chemistry; coursework that will help prepare you for a career as an ophthalmologist include biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry, physics, and medical ethics.

Licensing Requirements

Like any other kind of physician, ophthalmologists also need to pass a licensing exam in order to practice. State licensing requirements vary.

Skill Requirements

Ophthalmologists must have strong physics and math skills as well as a robust medical knowledge. Because many ophthalmologists also own their own practices, good management and administrative skills are also helpful.

Employment and Economic Outlook

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), www.bls.gov, the employment outlook for physicians and surgeons in general is good, with an 18% increase in job openings from 2012-2022. O*NET OnLine projects employment specifically for ophthalmologists to increase at a faster than average rate of 15%-21% (www.onetonline.org). The average annual salary for physicians and surgeons, including ophthalmologists, was $184,820 in May 2012, per BLS statistics.

Alternate Career Options


An optometrist provides patients with eye-related health care. Optometrists give vision and eye tests; diagnose eye-related illnesses, problems, and diseases; and prescribe treatments, such as medications or corrective lenses. While optometrists don't perform eye surgery, they may help with before- and after-surgery care. Aspiring optometrists need to have at least three years of undergraduate schooling before applying to a 4-year Doctor of Optometry degree program, although many earn a full 4-year bachelor's degree first. A year-long post-graduate residency can be completed for optometrists who want to specialize, such as in geriatric or pediatric care. State licensing is required; optometrists may also earn board certification. The BLS predicts that optometry jobs will increase 24% from 2012-2022; optometrists earned average pay of $109,810 in 2012.


A podiatrist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating illnesses, diseases, and conditions affecting lower limbs, from lower legs to ankles to feet. Podiatrists examine patients, order and review tests, make referrals when podiatry symptoms are signals of other health issues, and provide treatment that ranges from prescribing orthotics to performing surgery. While professional podiatry programs require at least three years of undergraduate college education, most applicants earn a bachelor's degree first. A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine program takes four years; graduates then complete a 3-year residency and apply for state licensing. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically require at least a passing score on the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam. Podiatrists can also earn board certification. The BLS predicts that jobs for podiatrists will increase 23% from 2012-2022; this occupation paid an average salary of $132,470 in 2012.

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