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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

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 and Irish Orthoptic Society website.