Bachelor's Degrees for a Career in Ophthalmology: Program Overviews

Oct 12, 2019

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats eye disease, which includes performing eye surgery. Students can pursue a variety of science-related premedical bachelor's degree programs to prepare for a career in ophthalmology.

Essential Information

Although scarce, bachelor's degree programs in ophthalmic technology are available. The four-year program teaches students how to perform testing and collect data to assist an ophthalmologist. A medical degree and completion of a residency are required to work in the field of ophthalmology. While not mandatory, most ophthalmology workers obtain certification to demonstrate knowledge of the field. For admission into a bachelor's program, students need a high school diploma or equivalent. Before graduating, some schools require students in an ophthalmic technology degree program to take the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO).

Bachelor's Degrees for Preparing to Be an Ophthalmologist

Ophthalmology is a fairly broad field that combines surgery and medicine. Ophthalmologists diagnose and treat eye diseases in both children and adults. Sub-specialties include cataract and refractive surgery, uveitis and ocular immunology, ophthalmic plastic surgery, ophthalmic pathology and neuro-ophthalmology. Although three years of college is the minimum requirement for entrance into medical school, most applicants have at least a bachelor's degree and some have more advanced degrees. The first few years of medical school focus on courses like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and pathology, so a bachelor's degree that is intensive in the sciences is recommended for students pursuing a career in ophthalmology. Programs that are classified as 'premedical' may be a good fit. Degrees may lead to a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts. Coursework varies depending on the specific bachelor's degree program, but premedical students need to complete courses in the physical and social sciences, as well as the humanities. Volunteering at a local clinic can also help undergraduate students gain practical experience. General premedical courses include:

  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Organic chemistry

Bachelor of Science in Ophthalmic Technology

Ophthalmic technologists, also called ophthalmic medical technologists or ophthalmic medical assistants, are eye care specialists that work alongside ophthalmologists to help treat and diagnose eye diseases. These trained professionals conduct diagnostic testing, collect data and assist ophthalmologists during eye surgery. Many ophthalmic technologists receive on-the-job training or complete an associate's degree program, but a few bachelor's degree programs in ophthalmic technology are available. Students learn about the ocular system, visual instrumentation operation and communicating with patients. Most bachelor's degree programs in this field are degree completion programs; applicants must have completed two years of science intensive college courses to enroll. Such programs may also lead to a Bachelor of Science in Ophthalmic Medical Technology. Program coursework for a bachelor's degree in ophthalmic technology generally includes a mix of classroom instruction, clinical skills and clinical practicum. Because most bachelor's degree programs in this field are degree completion programs, students should have already completed general education requirements. The following are some common courses in an ophthalmic medical technology program:

  • Medical terminology and ophthalmic pharmacology
  • Optics, ocular anatomy and physiology
  • Eye diseases
  • Ocular motility
  • Ophthalmic photography
  • Ophthalmic surgical assisting

Popular Career Options

Ophthalmologists and ophthalmic technologists are employed in hospitals, clinics and medical offices. In addition, ophthalmologists are qualified for jobs in private practices, while ophthalmic technologists are hired in medical centers. Ophthalmic technologists may specialize in a certain area, such as ophthalmic ultrasonography, ophthalmic photography, low-vision optics or ophthalmic surgical assisting. The majority of ophthalmic medical technicians work in the offices of physicians.

Career titles include:

  • Ophthalmologist
  • Ophthalmic medical technologist
  • Ophthalmic technician

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to, ophthalmologists made a median salary of $212,005 in August 2019. Employment growth for physicians and surgeons in general was expected to increase by 8% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to the BLS, ophthalmic medical technicians made a median salary of $36,530 in 2018.

Continuing Education: Becoming an Ophthalmologist

The road to a career in ophthalmology doesn't end with a bachelor's degree. In order to become licensed medical professionals, graduates need to earn a medical degree and complete a residency program. Continuing education is generally required and board certification may have additional requirements.

Medical School

After completing a bachelor's degree program, aspiring ophthalmologists need to be accepted into one of the 129 accredited medical schools in the U.S. Acceptance into a medical program is very competitive and students must submit MCAT scores. Medical school typically requires four years of full time study and leads to a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Requirements include coursework and clinical rotations supervised by experienced physicians.

Ophthalmology Residency

After gaining a general medical education through an M.D. program, graduates are prepared to pursue an ophthalmology specialization through a residency program. Ophthalmology residency programs combine didactic instruction with clinical experiences and research opportunities. Programs vary, but all ophthalmology residencies are based on the guidelines set forth by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's (ACGME) Residency Review Committee (RRC). Residents rotate between hospitals and services, completing general surgical and clinical training, as well as sub-specialty experiences. An ophthalmology residency program is considered paid, on-the-job training, which lasts from two to six years.

Licensing and Certification

In order to become a practicing ophthalmologist, medical school graduates must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Continuing education may be required to maintain licensure. Ophthalmologists may also desire to become board certified; this optional process is one way of demonstrating knowledge and experience to potential patients. In addition to medical education and residency training, certification from the American Board of Ophthalmology requires applicants to pass written and oral exams.

Certification Information

Certification, although not required, is preferred in this field. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) gives certification exams. Individuals interested in becoming certified must complete three training levels, with a specialty option required for those interested in surgical assisting certification.

Those looking for a bachelor's degree program related to ophthalmology can complete an ophthalmic technology program in which students learn about eye-related problems and complete hands-on experiences. While students will need to continue their education to become a practicing ophthalmologist, this program teaches the skills needed to assist a professional with data collection and testing.

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