Exploring this Job

To learn more about this career, ask your biology teacher or guidance counselor to set up an information interview with an ophthalmologist. You might also volunteer at a local hospital or clinic to get a feel for what it's like to work around other health care professionals and patients and possibly determine where your interests lie. You can also learn more about the practice of ophthalmology at the Web site of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (https://www.aao.org/medical-students).

The Job

Most ophthalmologists spend four days a week in the office seeing patients and one day a week performing surgery, usually at a hospital. Office visits typically involve performing eye examinations and screening for diseases and infections such as glaucoma and conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Part of the job of ophthalmologists is to prevent vision problems before they start, so many of their patients may have near perfect vision but come in for prevention purposes.

Ophthalmologists treat patients of all ages, from infants to elderly adults. During an examination, they check a patient's vision and prescribe glasses and contact lenses to correct any problems. They also screen for diseases using tools such as an ophthalmoscope, which is an instrument used to look at the inside of the eye. When examining a patient's eyes, the ophthalmologist looks for signs of diseases that affect other parts of the body, such as diabetes and hypertension. When such a health problem is discovered, the ophthalmologist may work with another physician in diagnosing and managing treatment.

In a typical workweek, an ophthalmologist may see more than 100 patients and perform three or more major surgeries. The most common surgery performed is removing cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye and cause partial or total blindness. Cataract surgery generally lasts just 30 minutes to an hour and usually helps patients regain all or most of their vision. Ophthalmologists also perform surgery to correct crossed eyes and glaucoma.

Ophthalmologists may specialize in one or more of the following areas: cornea and external disease, cataract and refractive surgery, glaucoma, uveitis and ocular immunology, vitreoretinal diseases, ophthalmic plastic surgery, pediatric ophthalmology, neuro-ophthalmology, and ophthalmic pathology. 

Ophthalmologists may treat patients who have diseases that could cause them to lose some or all of their vision. That possibility can make patients feel fearful and anxious and can create stress for both the patients and the doctor. For this reason, ophthalmologists need to be able to show patients compassion and understanding in offering their medical expertise.