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Health Care Providers: Ophthalmologists

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What Is Ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology (af-thal-MAHL-uh-jee) is the medical specialty that deals with the structure, function, problems, and diseases of the eye.

What Is an Ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist (af-thal-MAHL-uh-jist) is a doctor who studies, diagnoses, prevents, and treats diseases and conditions that affect the eyes. They also do eye surgery.

Why Would Someone Need One?

Ophthalmologists take care of patients with eye problems such as:

They do medical tests and procedures, such as:

  • eye exams
  • eye surgery including laser surgery
  • ocular ultrasounds (a test that shows growths or other problems)
  • screening for eye problems related to diabetes or sickle cell disease

What Is Their Training?

An ophthalmologist's training typically includes:

  • 4 years of pre-medical education at a college or university
  • 4 years of medical school — a medical degree (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree
  • 1-year internship in internal medicine or in a transitional program. It also can be in general surgery or pediatrics.
  • 3 years of training in an ophthalmology residency program

They also might have:

  • expertise in a subspecialty area (for example, pediatric ophthalmology or neuro-ophthalmology) after 3 years or more in a fellowship program. A “fellow” is a doctor who had more specialty training after completing medical school and a residency.

Good to Know

Optometrists and ophthalmologists are similar, but there are some differences:

  • Optometrists train in optometry school and are Doctors of Optometry (OD). In some U.S. states, they can do certain minor surgical procedures. 
  • Ophthalmologists train in medical school and have a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO) degree. They treat more serious eye problems and can do more complex surgical procedures.
Date reviewed: September 2022