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Medical Education
Medical Student Education

Career Information: Ophthalmology

Specialty: Ophthalmology

Completed by: Jacque Duncan

Date completed/updated: April 2012

  1. What can students do in the 1st and 2nd years to explore and/or prepare for this career?
    Explore Ophthalmology as a career choice by participating in the 160.01 noon-time Introduction to Ophthalmology elective in the fall. This is a great overview of the different subspecialities and opportunities in ophthalmology. Consider participating in a research project in ophthalmology or vision science during the summer between first and second year; this can provide you with a career mentor as well as an opportunity to explore a question in ophthalmology in depth, and perhaps may lead to an abstract or publication in the field. Study hard during the core curriculum and perform well on the USMLE Step 1; this is often used by residency programs as a metric to determine which candidates will be invited for interviews.

  2. What common variations exist in the length/content of residency programs for this career?
    Ophthalmology residency programs consist of one year of internship, which is usually a transitional internal medicine year, followed by three years Ophthalmology residency.

  3. What common variations exist in this career after training?
    Most people who complete their residency training go on to pursue fellowship training in Ophthalmology sub-specialties including: Cornea/Refractive Surgery (1 year); Pediatric Ophthalmology (1 year); Glaucoma (1 year); Retina (2 years); Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery (2 years); Less commonly: Ocular oncology, Neuro-ophthalmology, Ophthalmic Pathology (all 1 year each).

  4. What is a typical work day for someone in this field?
    The typical work week for a private practice Ophthalmologist is two days in the O.R. and three days in the office. An academic clinician scientist will likely spend 2.5 days in the lab and 2.5 days in the clinical arena. 10 hour days are fairly typical.

  5. What is the culture of this career?
    Ophthalmologists are procedure oriented and are interested in devices and equipment to a high degree. Ophthalmologists are very interested in developing innovations in treatments and diagnostic approaches compared to some other surgical fields.

  6. How compatible is this career with raising a family? How is this different for men and women?
    A career in Ophthalmology is compatible with raising a family to the extent that any surgical career is compatible with this goal. In general, about 50% of practice is in the outpatient clinic and about 50% is in the OR. The surgeries are nearly always done on an out-patient basis and inpatient call and coverage is much less than for some other surgical fields.

  7. What are the most important qualities or character traits for a person in this field?
    Ophthalmologists tend to be specialists who enjoy understanding a topic in great depth. Microsurgery requires meticulous attention to detail and excellent dexterity. Compassion for patients experiencing vision problems is very important, and passion to improve our ability to treat vision-threatening diseases is important as well.

  8. How competitive are the residency programs in this field?
    Ophthalmology is one of the most competitive residency application processes in the U.S. Our program at UCSF receives about 450 applications for five positions. However, 75% of U.S. seniors who complete the match process will match.

  9. How competitive is the job market after residency?
    The job market in ophthalmology is competitive in markets like San Francisco, so it is important to complete a sub-specialty fellowship after residency training.

  10. What programs have been popular among UCSF applicants, or how should applicants go about considering programs?
    This is an ever-evolving list, and the top 10 programs as listed by US News and World Report may or may not be the best match for every applicant. Many excellent programs include: UCSF, Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at University of Miami, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA, Duke, Emory, Wills Eye Institute, Washington University, Casey Eye Institute at Oregon Health and Science University, University of Washington, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Columbia, UCSD, CPMC, University of Utah. Also, programs can change rapidly, so this is a moving target.

  11. What resources (eg, websites, books, professional groups) would you recommend for students interested in learning more about this field?
    Check out the Vision and Ophthalmology Interest Group website for lots of helpful information:
    American Academy of Ophthalmology:
    The Ophthalmology Match is facilitated by

  12. How important, individually, are each the following for admission to a competitive program:


    Very Important

    Somewhat Important

    Not Important


    volunteer work










    Honors in third year









    This helps a tremendous amount, but lots of people match who are not AOA members












       USMLE scores are frequently used as a screening tool in determining who will be interviewed, and therefore who will be accepted. Letters of recommendation are extremely important, so it is essential to find a career mentor who knows you well and can write a strong letter on your behalf. Often a research experience can provide you not only with exposure to an unsolved question in the field, but also a career mentor and ideally some contribution to our state of knowledge that you can discuss during interviews (ideally resulting in an abstract, presentation, or publication if possible). The interview is extremely important and provides you with a chance to demonstrate your passion for ophthalmology. Your career goals may be important depending upon the program you are visiting and you should ideally apply to programs that have strengths that are compatible with your career goals.