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 of an Ophthalmologist

Ophthalmologists are a specific kind of doctor who treat illnesses, 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 and prescribe contact lenses and glasses.

EducationCompletion of medical school plus 3-8 years of internship and residency; state licensure also required
Job SkillsStrong medical knowledge, strong physics and math skills, administrative and management skills
Average Salary (2015)*$197,700 (for physicians and surgeons not listed separately, including ophthalmologists)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)*14% increase in jobs for all physicians and surgeons

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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 undergo 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), the employment outlook for physicians and surgeons in general is good, with a predicted 14% increase in job openings from 2014-2024. The average annual salary for all physicians and surgeons not listed separately, including ophthalmologists, was $197,700 in May 2015, per BLS statistics.

Alternate Career Options

Other options to consider in this career field include:

Optometrist

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 in a specialty. The BLS predicts that optometry jobs will increase 27% from 2014-2024; optometrists earned an average yearly pay of $115,750 in 2015.

Podiatrist

A podiatrist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating illnesses, diseases and conditions affecting the lower limbs, from the lower legs to the 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 14% from 2014-2024; this occupation paid an average salary of $136,180 in 2015.

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