Working life (medical ophthalmology)

This page provides useful information about the roles and responsibilities of medical ophthalmologists, where they work, who they work with and what they feel about their role.

“It encompasses a truly diverse range of fields where conditions may be isolated to the eye but very often evaluation of the patient will involve detailed understanding of systemic conditions and their management. As a physician by training there is intellectual satisfaction in this approach, and as an ophthalmologist, I feel that I am cherry picking the most interesting cases within ophthalmology. There are many opportunities to be involved in research, and part of the excitement is in bringing newer therapies to ophthalmic practice.” (A specialist registrar)

Most medical ophthalmologists see patients in an out-patient setting in a teaching hospital. Specialist clinics may be held for different patient groups at various times during the week, eg dealing with immunosuppression, neurological disorders, vascular risk factors, genetic counselling or laser and intra-ocular treatments. A consultant will handle cases as well as supervise other team members. The rest of the week may be taken up with consultant meetings, undertaking research, supervising training, doing essential administration and managing and participating in diabetic retinopathy screening. As a small specialty, there is ample opportunity for leadership and involvement in national committees.

Medical ophthalmologists see patients in all age groups. Uveitis, for example, tends to affect younger adults, neurological disorders can present at any age, while age-related macular degeneration affects the elderly.

  • Medical ophthalmologists work alongside:

    • ophthalmic nurses
    • ophthalmic photographers
    • optometrists
    • orthoptists
    • medical secretaries and administrative staff

    They also work closely with:

    • ophthalmologists (for cases involving surgical treatments)
    • specialists in dermatology, diabetes and endocrinology, infectious diseases, medical genetics, neurology, neurosurgery, rheumatology and stroke medicine (for referral or co-management of cases)
  • The variety of work and mix of patients is very attractive. It is also rewarding to be involved in a specialty in which new developments in diagnosis and treatment permit earlier interventions and lead to a better quality of life for patients.

    Visual impairments cause considerable anxiety but the majority of conditions are responsive to therapy. It is rewarding, for example, to restore the sight of a patient so that they are able to work again. However, caring for people who are losing or have lost their sight can be challenging.

    The pressure of work can be challenging although the hours of work are largely confined to office hours so life outside work is rarely encroached upon. There are always urgent and extra patients and eye casualty clinics can be very busy. Most medical ophthalmologists work more than their contracted hours.

    Being a small specialty, opportunities for professional networking and exchange are limited.


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