What is an Ophthalmologist?


An ophthalmologist is a medically trained doctor who commonly acts as both physician and surgeon. (S)he examines, diagnoses and treats diseases and injuries in and around the eye.

Ophthalmologists undergo extensive training, a typical training route is:

  • Entry into a medical school with at least 3 excellent A levels
  • 5 years at a medical school leading to a degree in medicine (e.g. MBChB)
  • 2 years as a newly qualified doctor doing basic medical training called the Foundation programme. Full registration with the General Medical Council occurs after the first year of this training.
  • 7 years of ophthalmic specialist training (OST) during which time rigorous examinations set by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists must be passed

More information is available:

Ophthalmology as a Career
The Consultant Ophthalmologist

A brief outline of the examination system which is used to test that training is given in the Examination section of the website.

What is the difference between an ophthalmologist, orthoptist and optometrist?
They are all professionally trained people who treat people with ophthalmic problems but only an ophthalmologist is a medically trained doctor.


Optometrists examine eyes, give advice on visual problems and prescribe and fit glasses or contact lenses. They are usually employed in the high street but may also work in the Hospital Eye Service. Some have an enhanced role in caring for patients with stable chronic eye conditions.

A typical training route is:

  • Entry into a university optometry department with 3 good A levels
  • 3 years at university leading to a degree in optometry (e.g. BOptom (Hons))
  • 1 year of pre-registration experience
  • Completion of Professional Qualifying Examination set by the College of Optometrists
  • Registration with the General Optical Council

For further information visit the College of Optometrists website.


Orthoptists diagnose and treat defects of vision and abnormalities of eye movement. They are usually part of a hospital care team looking after people with eye problems especially those related to binocular vision, amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (squint). For further information visit the The British & Irish Orthoptic Society website.

What is the purpose of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists?

The College is the professional body for ophthalmologists and, as such, is the body responsible for creating and maintaining standards in ophthalmic training and practice. It organises the examination system and sets the curriculum. It maintains a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system and provides a range of surgical skills courses for trainees. It organises a scientific congress, produces clinical guidelines and the scientific journal "Eye". It promotes study and research in ophthalmology. The College also exists to educate the general public in all matters relating to vision and the health of the human eye.
The College is not a regulatory body; it does not have a role in disciplinary actions and is unable to act on complaints about individual doctors. These are the responsibilities of the General Medical Council (GMC). The GMC holds the central registers of doctors’ qualifications, including the specialist register. The specialist register lists doctors who have completed specialist training, including surgical training. Doctors must now be included in this register to be appointed to consultant posts in the NHS.
Information about various ophthalmic problems can be found under the Patient Information subheading in the Publications section of the website. The College accepts public enquiries but cannot offer any specific advice about individual treatment(s).

How can I find an ophthalmologist?

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists is responsible for the training and examination of ophthalmologists, in the UK. It is not involved in the licensing or registering of surgeons to practise and it does not maintain lists of individuals or a register in this way. The College is unable to recommend individual ophthalmologists to patients. It is strongly advised that patients always seek referral through general practitioners, regardless of whether they are seeking NHS or private treatment.

How can I help the work of the College?

The College has identified the need to raise the profile of ophthalmic research for the benefit of future patients. To do so it wishes to develop a pool of secure funds, to be called "The Royal College of Ophthalmologists Research Fund". This will be used to support original or innovative research and educational programmes and services for clinician researchers, for which funding is not always available through traditional routes.

The College of Optometrists
The College of Optometrists is the Professional, Scientific and Examining Body for Optometry in the UK >More