How to Become Ophthalmologist

Updated on January 15, 2024


Becoming an ophthalmologist takes many years of education and training, but it can be a rewarding career helping people maintain and improve their vision. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system. They diagnose and treat eye diseases and perform eye surgery as described by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

First, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, typically with a strong background in science and courses like biology, physics, and chemistry. Next, you apply to and attend four years of medical school to earn your medical degree. Subsequently, you enter a residency program in ophthalmology, which takes three years to gain hands-on training in treating patients under supervision. Finally, many pursue an optional fellowship for one to two years to subspecialize in areas like glaucoma, retina disorders or pediatric ophthalmology. In summary, becoming an ophthalmologist requires extensive training but allows you to have a meaningful career improving vision and eye health.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in the eye’s anatomy, functions, and diseases. Ophthalmologists differ from optometrists and opticians because they are licensed to practice medicine and perform surgery American Academy of Ophthalmology.

After completing a four-year undergraduate degree, aspiring ophthalmologists must attend four years of medical school to earn their medical degree (MD or DO). They then complete a one-year internship and three years of residency training in ophthalmology American Board of Ophthalmology.

Ophthalmologists can provide a full spectrum of eye care, from vision services like prescribing glasses and contact lenses to performing complex microsurgery. They can diagnose and treat all eye diseases and can prescribe medication. Some common conditions ophthalmologists treat include cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration.

What do Ophthalmologist do?

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating eye diseases and conditions. As eye care specialists, ophthalmologists have extensive medical and surgical training to care for patients’ vision and eye health.

Specifically, ophthalmologists:

In summary, ophthalmologists are critical in promoting lifelong healthy vision through expert eye care services ranging from eye exams to advanced eye surgeries and vision correction solutions. Their comprehensive training allows them to provide complete eye health management.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step toward becoming an ophthalmologist is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university. While any major is acceptable, common choices include biology, chemistry, physics, health sciences, or biochemistry, as these provide a strong science background. Make sure to maintain a high GPA and take courses like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, genetics, and organic chemistry, which are prerequisites for entering medical school. Learn more about preparing for medical school at the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Complete Medical School

After earning a bachelor’s, the next educational requirement is to complete four years of medical school and earn either a Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. Gaining admission into medical school is very competitive, so having a high GPA, good MCAT test score, clinical experience, and letters of recommendation is important. The first two years focus on classroom instruction in areas like pathology, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and physical diagnosis, while the last two years are spent gaining hands-on clinical experience by rotating through various specialties. Learn tips for succeeding in medical school from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Finish a Residency in Ophthalmology

After finishing medical school, prospective ophthalmologists must then complete a residency which lasts 3-4 years. An ophthalmology residency focuses on diagnosing and treating eye diseases and conditions. Residents gain extensive clinical training in ophthalmic surgeries, using microscopes, lasers, diagnostic imaging, administering eye medications, and more. Competitiveness for securing an ophthalmology residency spot varies by year but tends to be highly competitive.

Postgraduate Training for Ophthalmologists

Becoming an ophthalmologist requires extensive postgraduate training beyond the 4 years of medical school. Here are the key steps:

In summary, becoming an ophthalmologist takes four years of medical school, one year of general clinical internship, 3 years of residency, and optionally 1-2 years of fellowship. It involves passing rigorous licensing exams and competing for limited training positions. The long training produces highly skilled physicians equipped to diagnose and treat all types of eye diseases and perform delicate ophthalmic surgeries.

Skills and Qualities of a Successful Ophthalmologist

Becoming an ophthalmologist requires dedication, perseverance, and the development of specialized medical skills. Here are some of the key skills and personal qualities that contribute to being a successful ophthalmologist:

Ophthalmologists require an advanced skill set to diagnose and treat eye diseases and conditions. Important abilities include:

Interpersonal Skills

Bedside manner is critical for ophthalmologists. Key skills include:

Personal Qualities

In addition to medical expertise, certain personal strengths contribute to an ophthalmologist’s success:

Developing this blend of medical capabilities and personal qualities takes time but allows ophthalmologists to provide the highest quality vision care to their patients. With hard work and commitment during training and practice, eye doctors can gain expertise in this rewarding specialty.

Ophthalmologist Salary

Years of Experience Average Salary
Entry-level (0-5 years) $200,000 – $250,000
Mid-career (5-10 years) $250,000 – $350,000
Experienced (10-20 years) $300,000 – $500,000
Late career (20+ years) $400,000+

Career Opportunities and Advancement

Ophthalmologists have a wide range of career opportunities open to them. After completing medical training and a residency in ophthalmology, many choose to enter private practice or join a group practice with other ophthalmologists. This allows them to focus on providing clinical care and procedures like cataract surgery, corneal transplants, and LASIK eye surgery.

However, ophthalmologists who want to advance their careers have several options to consider:

Academic Medicine

Ophthalmologists can pursue careers in academic medicine by working at universities and teaching hospitals. They may conduct vision research, train medical students and residents, and treat patients with complex eye diseases. With a focus on research and publishing, they can advance to positions like professor of ophthalmology and department chair.

Subspecialty Fellowship

After residency, ophthalmologists can complete 1-2 year fellowship programs to gain expertise in subspecialties like retina, glaucoma, pediatric ophthalmology, or ocular oncology. This advanced training opens up new career possibilities in these niches.

Leadership Roles

With years of experience, ophthalmologists may take on leadership roles in major healthcare organizations by serving as medical directors, chairs, or on boards of directors. These management and administrative positions allow them to have a broader influence.

Government Agencies

Some ophthalmologists use their clinical and research backgrounds to advance their careers with government groups like the FDA, CDC, NIH, or WHO to inform vision-related policy decisions and public health initiatives.

The ophthalmology field offers varied career advancement opportunities, from private practice to academic research to leadership positions. Additional training and developing areas of expertise can help ophthalmologists find new directions to grow professionally.


In conclusion, becoming an ophthalmologist requires many years of education and training, but can be a rewarding career helping people preserve and regain their vision. First, complete a bachelor’s degree, then four years of medical school to earn your MD. Next, complete a one-year internship, followed by three years of residency specifically focused on diseases and surgery of the eyes. Pass licensing exams along the way as well. The road is long, but opportunities to help people through eye care and advance the field of ophthalmology make it worthwhile. Learn more about the career path and job outlook from the American Academy of Ophthalmology website. With drive and persistence, you can join this vital profession that quite literally helps others see the world.

Additional Resources

Resource Link Description
American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Details on ophthalmology residency, fellowships, and research opportunities
  • Tips on writing CV, interviewing, finding a job
  • Networking and mentorship resources
Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology
  • Information on ophthalmology education, training pathways
  • Residency program directory and match data
  • Updates on developments in the field
American Board of Ophthalmology
  • Board certification requirements and process
  • Exam dates, fees, prep materials
  • Maintenance of certification guidelines
Fight for Sight
  • Research funding opportunities
  • List of ophthalmology fellowship grants
  • Tips for applying for grants and funding


What is an ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating eye diseases and conditions. Ophthalmologists perform eye exams, prescribe glasses and contact lenses, diagnose and treat eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts, and perform eye surgery.

What degree do you need to become an ophthalmologist?
Becoming an ophthalmologist requires extensive education and training. After completing a bachelor’s degree with prerequisite courses like biology, chemistry, physics, and math, you must attend 4 years of medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. After medical school, there are an additional four years of residency training, specifically in ophthalmology.

How much does an ophthalmologist make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for ophthalmologists in the United States is over $300,000. Those working in medical and surgical hospitals tend to make the highest wages. Years of experience is also a key factor – entry-level ophthalmologists make considerably less, while seasoned ophthalmologists can make over $500,000 annually.

What certification or licenses are required to practice as an ophthalmologist?
After completing medical school and a residency in ophthalmology, aspiring ophthalmologists must pass written and oral exams to become board-certified through either the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) or the American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology (AOBOO). They must also obtain a state medical license to practice medicine.

What type of experience is required to become an ophthalmologist?
Becoming an ophthalmologist requires extensive training over many years. While in medical school, students gain experience treating patients under supervision during clinical rotations. After graduation, there are four years of hands-on residency training specifically focused on diagnosing and treating eye conditions. Some ophthalmologists pursue additional 1-2 year subspecialty fellowships to gain added expertise in areas like retina treatment or pediatric ophthalmology.