Education and Training Requirements

High School

To prepare for a career as an ophthalmologist, high school students should enroll in a college preparatory course, and take courses in English, languages (especially Latin), the humanities, social studies, and mathematics, in addition to courses in biology, chemistry, and physics.

Postsecondary Training

There is often confusion over the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist. Ophthalmologists have medical degrees, while optometrists do not. After earning an M.D. or D.O. degree and becoming licensed to practice medicine, ophthalmologists complete at least one year of general clinical training and at least three years in an eye residency program at a hospital. Often ophthalmologists work at least one more year in a subspecialty fellowship.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Licensing is mandatory in the United States. It is required in all states before any doctor can practice medicine. In order to be licensed, doctors must graduate from medical school, pass the licensing test of the state in which they will practice, and complete a residency. Physicians licensed in one state can usually get licensed to practice in another state without further testing; however, some states may limit reciprocity.

To qualify for certification by the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO) a candidate must successfully complete an ophthalmology course of education and pass written and oral examinations given by the ABO. The ophthalmologist must then complete continuing education requirements and Web-based self-review tests to maintain his or her certification. While certification is voluntary, it is highly recommended. Most hospitals will not grant privileges to an ophthalmologist without board certification. Health maintenance organizations and other insurance groups will not make referrals or payments without certification.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

To become an ophthalmologist, one must complete four years of medical school plus one or two years of clinical training; pass a licensing exam; spend three years in an ophthalmology residency at a hospital; and often take an additional year in a subspeciality.

Like all physicians and surgeons, ophthalmologists must have excellent speaking, writing, and listening skills to communicate with patients and other health care providers. They also require manual and finger dexterity to control and make fine adjustments on very small objects. Because many of the conditions an ophthalmologist treats involve the reality or possibility of blindness, the doctor must be able to handle stressful situations with calmness and empathy.