Ophthalmologist Degrees and Education Requirements

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who treat diseases of the eyes. In order to become an ophthalmologist, students typically complete a bachelor's program, a 4-year Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program and a 3-year ophthalmology residency in a hospital.

Essential Information

For a student to become an ophthalmologist, he or she will typically hold a bachelor's degree and then complete a 4-year Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program and a 3-year ophthalmology residency in a hospital. Ph.D. in Ophthalmology programs are frequently offered as part of dual M.D./Ph.D. programs; they're also designed for prospective university teachers or scientific researchers who already hold a professional medical degree. Ph.D. programs are primarily research-based and culminate in a dissertation, while M.D. programs with residencies emphasize hands-on clinical practice with patients.

  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree necessary for acceptance into a master's program. Many medical school programs in ophthalmology advise students to enroll in pre-ophthalmology or pre-optometry bachelor's degree programs. Most Ph.D. programs will expect applicants to have some experience with ophthalmology or optometry, including previous coursework in math, science and anatomy.
  • Program Levels: Master's degree, Ph.D

M.D. with Residency in Ophthalmology

Ophthalmologists are physicians who specialize in treating and diagnosing ailments of the eye. Such problems can include diseases like cataracts or glaucoma; injuries; and problems with vision, like farsightedness. Ophthalmologists have more specialized training in the eye than family doctors and, contrary to optometrists, have completed medical school and have knowledge of general medicine and surgery. Because of this training, ophthalmologists often get referrals of patients with serious eye disorders from optometrists and family physicians. Coursework in a medical school program includes general health studies, such as anatomy and physiology. Aspiring ophthalmologists will also learn about:

  • Retcam retinal imaging
  • Automated analysis of visual fields
  • Ultra-sonography
  • Strabismus surgery

Ph.D. in Ophthalmology

Master's degrees in ophthalmology are almost always awarded as parts of M.D. or Ph.D. programs, and Ph.D. programs are often parts of dual degree programs offering both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. Doctorate degrees in ophthalmology are best for students who already have a medical degree or wish to pursue a medical degree simultaneously. Graduates of these programs also usually have an interest in teaching and doing academic research.

One important component to nearly all ophthalmology programs is a teaching component, in which students either teach undergraduate science courses or assist tenured professors. Here are some courses common to most ophthalmology Ph.D. programs:

  • Vision research
  • Statistics
  • Neurobiology
  • Computer science
  • Physiology

Popular Career Options

In addition to working in a hospital or medical office as an ophthalmologist, graduates of Ph.D. programs can work as:

  • Professors
  • Researchers
  • Teachers

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2012, those in the all other physicians and surgeons category, including ophthalmologists, earned a mean annual salary of $184,820. In 2010, the BLS predicted that employment of physicians and surgeons, which includes ophthalmologists, would grow 24% through 2020.

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