Ophthalmologists are doctors who care for patients with eye conditions. 

They diagnose, treat and prevent disorders of the eyes and visual system, using medical and surgical skills.

Female ophthalmologist checking eye

Life as an ophthalmologist 

You’ll look for possible links with other conditions within the body. You’ll treat patients from premature babies to the most senior members of the community. They will generally be well, without life-threatening conditions, but eye conditions are common and can cause anxiety. You’ll need to be sympathetic and reassuring.  

You’ll be involved in a mix of medical and surgical work and will treat a range of conditions from common issues such as cataracts, glaucoma or squints through to infectious eye disease and chronic diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (deterioration of the macula, the central area of the retina). 

You’ll run specialty, general or acute clinics, work in treatment clinics using lasers and other technology or in a specialist eye theatre, performing operations such as cataract surgery. You will regularly work with a range of other clinical specialists. 

You’ll mainly work regular hours, with occasional out-of-hours work to cover eye emergencies.  

A surge in exciting new technology and treatments in recent years means you’ll be able to manage patients with eye diseases in a much more effective way and use the latest surgical procedures to perform day case operations. You’ll often be able to see the effects of your treatment almost immediately.  

How much can I earn? 

You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £32,398 to £37,303. Once you start your specialty training in the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £43,923, which can increase to between £93,666 and £126,281 as a consultant.

How about the benefits? 

  • make a difference 
  • flexible and part-time working 
  • high income early in your career   
  • work anywhere in the world   
  • excellent pension scheme 
  • good holiday entitlement 
  • NHS discounts in shops and restaurants 

Must-have skills    

  • excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues, and patients and their families  
  • emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure  
  • teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams  
  • problem-solving and diagnostic skills  
  • outstanding organisational ability and effective decision-making skills  
  • first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients  
  • a high degree of manual dexterity  
  • superb hand-eye co-ordination, excellent vision, and visuospatial awareness  
  • physical stamina to cope with the demands of surgery  

Entry requirements 

Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics.   

If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine.  

You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.  

Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application. 

"Ophthalmology appealed to me because it combines medicine and microsurgery and is also one of the few specialisms where you can see the effects of treatment almost immediately."

Read Kavita's story

What are my chances of starting a career in ophthalmology? 

In 2020 there were 430 applications for 75 specialty training places (a competition ratio of 5.73). 

How to become an ophthalmologist 

After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.  

After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training to become an ophthalmologist, which will take a minimum of seven years.  

You may be able to train part time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities.  

Where a career in ophthalmology can take you 

You could:  

  • specialise or conduct research in areas such as eye development and diseases in children, retinal disease and its onset in patients with conditions like diabetes, or oculoplastic surgery (plastic surgery around the eye) 
  • teach medical students or postgraduate students in training  
  • get involved in research at universities, the NHS or private sector  

Other roles that may interest you

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