Career Guide


Emily Hanson  · Jan 25th 2023

Do you want to learn more about the human eye, which is one of the most exciting parts of the body?


Ophthalmologists are specialist doctors that diagnose and treat conditions related to the eyes. Their work combines inpatient and outpatient care, treating patients from newborn babies through to the elderly.

Ophthalmology jobs

What is an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists care for patients affected by eye illnesses and conditions. Their work covers the full patient journey, from assessment to diagnosis, to treatment and ongoing care. They utilise a range of technologies such as lasers to perform cutting edge, life improving treatments.

As an NHS ophthalmologist, your work could cover patients with a range of eye conditions.Your work could combine simple medical procedures with more complex surgical interventions.


Your responsibilities as an ophthalmologist will vary depending on your specialisms and level of expertise.

Your training to become an ophthalmologist will begin at medical school.

Common duties include:

  • Taking referrals from general practitioners or opticians following concerns with a patient’s vision.
  • Meeting patients and taking a full medical history including any underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, to get a full picture of anything that could be affecting an individual’s eye health.
  • Assessing whether there may be any other underlying medical conditions that the patient is unaware of, where their eye condition is a symptom pointing to it.
  • Diagnosing eye conditions based on a full medical assessment and proposing interventions or medical treatments needed to improve life quality or health in general.
  • Passing on key information to patients (and their families, if they are children) in an accessible and understandable way.
  • Performing surgical procedures, such as removing cataracts, or microsurgeries like laser eye surgery.
  • Running an outpatient ophthalmology clinic for patients with long term eye conditions or those at risk of developing eye conditions.
  • Working in liaison with various other health professionals including doctors, nurses and healthcare practitioners to support the wider wellbeing of patients.
  • Keeping up to date, detailed records of your treatments and recommendations for use by other medical professionals involved in a patient’s care.
  • Keeping abreast of upcoming medical research, especially in relation to new microsurgeries and technologies that can be used to rapidly improve patient experiences and outcomes.


An ophthalmologist salary in the NHS is determined by the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale. Your starting salary will be during your foundation training, in your first two years out of medical school. This salary ranges from £29,384 - £34,012[1]. On completion of your foundation training and admittance to the General Medical Council (GMC), you’ll begin your specialist training in ophthalmology and earn a minimum of £40,257. As you progress in your specialist training and become a consultant ophthalmologist, you could earn from £84,559 - £114,003.

Some ophthalmologists move from the NHS into private practice. You could earn more if you choose this route, though salaries will vary depending on your location and level of expertise.

Eye doctor


Your training to become an ophthalmologist will begin at medical school. Medical schools are attached to universities. You will start with a medicine degree lasting at least 5 years. All medical degrees must be certified by the General Medical Council (GMC).

You will usually need a minimum 3 A levels at A* and A grades, including chemistry. Some universities also require biology and some might request maths and physics. You will also need high grades in your GCSEs. If you already hold an undergraduate degree in a health related field and have the relevant A Levels and GCSE combinations, you could alternatively apply for the graduate route to medicine, a 4 year condensed course.

Training and development

Training and development in the medical profession is highly standardised. On completion of your medical degree, you will enter your foundation training. This usually lasts two years and includes six placements spent in different medical settings, often hospitals. You have the opportunity to ask for a particular placement in ophthalmology at this point, though it isn’t guaranteed.

On completion of your foundation training, you will need to register with the GMC. This gives you full admission into the medical profession. You will then have the opportunity to begin your specialist training to become an ophthalmology consultant. This takes at least seven years, but can be extended to fit around family, health or caring responsibilities.

Most medical schools require applicants to have evidence of time spent in a medical setting prior to starting their course.

To retain status with the GMC all doctors must also complete regular continuing professional development (CPD). You will usually need to complete at least 250 hours of CPD in a 5 year period, which works out to around 50 hours per year. CPD can include shadowing, attending conferences and seminars, and conducting your own research.

You will be encouraged to join the Royal College of Ophthalmology to support your CPD. You will gain access to conferences, training opportunities and networking through membership, as well as being kept up to date with new developments in the profession.


Your skills as an ophthalmologist combine robust medical knowledge with practical skills and patient support.

These include:

  • Having a robust medical knowledge of eye conditions, how they come about and their treatments.
  • Excellent bedside manner to support patients who may be worried or having their life significantly impacted by their eye condition.
  • Excellent verbal communication skills to support explaining conditions to patients, as well as communicating well with other medical professionals involved in a patient’s care.
  • Strong written communication skills for compiling detailed medical reports summarising a patient’s care, and your medical recommendations.
  • Ability to work well under pressure, as you will be running multiple clinics and managing several patient caseloads.
  • Organisation skills - you will need to manage multiple commitments within your role, so you’ll need to keep on top of the different workloads while maintaining excellent standards.
  • Strong fine motor skills - your work will involve microsurgery and treating patients on a minute level, so your hand eye coordination needs to be excellent.
  • Excellent team working skills - your work exists within a wider medical team, so you’ll need to work well collaboratively with others.
  • Strong decision making skills - important choices on patient care will be down to you and your expertise, so you need to be decisive and confident in your abilities.
  • Ability to lead - you will lead inpatient and outpatient clinical teams, so you’ll need to be able to manage people and bring out the best in them.
  • Emotional capacity - you are likely to work with patients in a vulnerable time of life, so you’ll need to do so without this negatively impacting your own wellbeing.

Opthamology degree

Work Experience

Most medical schools require applicants to have evidence of time spent in a medical setting prior to starting their course. This can be in a hospital, community practice or other healthcare setting. If you know someone in the medical profession already, it’s a good idea to reach out and ask if they can support you to find a placement. If you struggle to access time directly shadowing doctors, you could also reach out to other support services offering medical care or patient care, like residential care homes. You could also work part time in a non clinical position within the NHS, such as working as a porter.

If you have an interest in ophthalmology early on, you might request to observe an ophthalmologist specifically. You could also ask to observe an optician in a community based opticians practice - though this may not count as time spent in a medical setting alone.

While you are studying, you could join a university based ophthalmology society. This will help you develop your understanding of the profession, keep up to date with advancements, and network. You could also join the national society, the British Undergraduate Ophthalmology Society.

Career Prospects

Ophthalmology is an ever growing field due to fast technical advancements. Because of this there are plenty of opportunities for specialisms within ophthalmologist jobs.

Ophthalmologists care for patients affected by eye illnesses and conditions. Their work covers the full patient journey, from assessment to diagnosis, to treatment and ongoing care.

Your career will begin in foundation training, then consultancy training. Consulting ophthalmologists will be encouraged to take sub-specialisms. You could focus on paediatric ophthalmology, working on eye diseases in children and premature babies, or focus your work with the elderly.

If you particularly enjoy the academic side of your work, you could focus on clinical research. This may include conducting your own studies and submit your work to be published in publications such as the British Journal of Ophthalmology. You can also move towards teaching, teaching students during their medical degree, or working specifically with junior doctors or those undertaking their own specialist training.

You might choose to go from NHS ophthalmology to becoming a private ophthalmologist. This might mean working in cities to access private hospitals.


undergraduate Uni's

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