As an orthoptist, your role is to care for all things eyes, specifically the movement and position. Specialising in diagnosing and managing a range of eye conditions, it’s your role to help educate patients about their eye problems and how to treat them.
Working as an orthoptist is a collaborative role, caring for the general public and being a part of a wider team of healthcare professionals. It involves a passion for science, helping others and a keen interest in improving eye healthcare.
What is an orthoptist?
An orthoptist is an eye expert, helping diagnose, manage and treat a range of eye conditions for your patients. You will work with numerous types of patients, ranging in age and their conditions.
The conditions primarily affect visual development, eye movements or the way both eyes work together. Your role is to check for disease symptoms, injury or visual defects and confirm a diagnosis. These diagnoses can range from minor issues to serious neurological disorders.
You will be eligible to register for the HCPC when fully qualified. To keep your HCPC registration renewed every two years, you will need to keep a log of all the continuing professional development (CPD) activities.
As a team player, you will usually work as part of a hospital team, as well as in either community healthcare or schools. Your wider team includes many other specialists such as optometrists and nurses, as well as health visitors and teachers.
As an orthoptist, it’s a collaborative and insightful role to diagnose eye conditions. The general responsibilities include:
- Assess patients and diagnose the correct eye movement or eye position disorders.
- Research and investigate causes for vision and visual field loss.
- Assess the patient’s vision development and suggest the right course of treatment.
- Create a treatment plan specific to their condition which may include eye exercises for example.
- Organise and manage medicines for patients.
- Understand how to manage various eye conditions.
- Refer patients for further investigations or tests for their condition.
- Be a team player, working with a wider team of other healthcare professionals.
- Monitor and report on patients' treatment.
- Organise patients records and other administrative duties.
- The ability to train students on placement.
- Carry out your continuing professional development (CPD).
- Work well with children and carry out vision tests.
- The ability to use specialist equipment.
- Staying up to date with new industry developments.
- Educating patients on their conditions and management techniques.
Working in the NHS, you will be paid on the Agenda for Change pay system and will typically begin on band 5. The orthoptics salary can range from £27,055 on an entry-level to £32,934 with years of experience. As you work your way up the ladder, an orthoptist salary can increase to the band 6 and 7 pay range for senior positions, from £33,706 to £47,672, based on experience.
As NHS workers, you will also have access to pension schemes, and health service discounts.
For a further wage increase, you can move up the ranks into higher positions or change to private practices. If working in London, your salary will be higher than the UK average, depending on how close you are to central.
An orthoptist is a graduate job and you will require an undergraduate degree in orthoptics, approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You can also study further with a postgraduate orthoptist degree.
To apply for a master's orthoptics degree, you will need to acquire an undergraduate orthoptics degree or a relevant science degree such as psychology degrees, nursing degrees or biological sciences degrees. The master's course takes around two years full-time. Both undergraduate and postgraduate studies include developing your knowledge of how the eyes work and on-hand experience in clinical practice. These placements can range from schools, hospital-based clinics and community clinics.
Training and development
Training and development are continuous in an orthoptist’s job. When you have qualified, and in your first job, you will receive an induction and support from a preceptor, a more experienced orthoptist. They will help you settle into the workplace and show you the ropes of the day-to-day role. A specific induction called the BIOS (British and Irish Orthoptic Society) preceptorship is designed for new graduate orthoptists to develop clinical skills and support them in working independently.
Competition within the orthoptist's sector is fierce which is why work experience can give you a step up compared to others.
You will be eligible to register for the HCPC when fully qualified. To keep your HCPC registration renewed every two years, you will need to keep a log of all the continuing professional development (CPD) activities. Registering as a BIOS member will provide access to your CPD page to log these activities. This membership also offers indemnity insurance and a range of conferences and events to attend. Events help you network with colleagues, and experts and keep up to date with industry developments. UK members are also members of the British Orthoptic Society Trade Union, which provides employment support and advice.
Being an orthoptist requires a range of different skills, including the following:
- The ability to work collaboratively and in a wider team.
- Strong problem-solving skills.
- Communicating effectively with patients to explain conditions and treatments.
- Being able to emphasise with patients and care for their needs.
- The ability to organise your workload and work independently.
- Work well under pressure in a busy environment.
- The ability to be patient and be self-aware.
- Be friendly and easy to work with others.
- Strong attention to detail and good observational skills.
- The ability to be self-motivated and keen on self-directed learning.
- Flexible to new situations and can adapt well.
- Use a computer effectively.
- Great with time management.
Competition within the orthoptist's sector is fierce which is why work experience can give you a step up compared to others. It can be beneficial to acquire some paid or voluntary experience in your local orthopaedic department, by contacting them and asking what’s available. The BIOS is an organisation which arranges work shadowing opportunities at your local orthoptic department.
Any work experience in the healthcare or well-being environment can also be an advantage, whether it’s paid or voluntary. You can also work with the elderly, children or those with special needs. Other experiences can be working for charities or as a mentor, as they both show your dedication to helping others. Essentially, you need to be looking for work experience or internships which involve caring for others.
The career prospects for orthoptic jobs are endless. Many orthoptists start their career in the NHS which has an established career structure. You can go up the ranks and become a specialist orthoptist and with further experience, a senior or head orthoptist. As head of the orthoptic service, you are responsible for a team.
An orthoptist is an eye expert, helping diagnose, manage and treat a range of eye conditions for your patients.
You can also develop your specialism and work in advanced or extended roles. These areas of specialists can range from glaucoma, low vision, and cataracts to paediatric ophthalmology or macular degeneration.
There’s also the option to go down the teaching route after an appropriate amount of experience. You can develop your knowledge to become a lead clinical tutor in various universities and develop a range of tutors part-time or full-time basis. Additionally, you could be involved in the research side of orthoptics. That can mean supporting or being involved in clinical research and developing a career as a clinical research lead.
Alternatively, there’s the opportunity to work in management or a leadership role, and influence orthoptics in the wider workforce through mentoring or project management.
Some orthoptists also choose to take the route of working for private orthoptic clinics or setting up their practice.