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How to Become an Opthalmologist in 2023

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by Danielle Pratt in Residency

Do you want to know how to become an ophthalmologist? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for medical research and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

If so, an ophthalmology career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what an ophthalmologist does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Ophthalmologists treat and diagnose conditions relating to the eyes. They are also trained to perform surgeries on the eye.
  • Ophthalmology residency training is four years, with the option of fellowship training afterward
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs appear to provide no advantage or disadvantage to becoming an ophthalmologist

Table of Contents

What Are Ophthalmologists?

Ophthalmologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions relating to the eye. They have a remarkable job of understanding the eye, a complex visual system element. They are trained to help patients of all ages with a wide range of problems relating to the eye.

One aspect of an ophthalmologist’s job is to provide care for visual problems that require corrective lenses. They are also prepared to care for other disorders that affect the eye which may involve performing cataract and glaucoma surgeries. An ophthalmologist also can perform laser treatments and corneal transplantation.

Is an Ophthalmologist a Doctor?

Are ophthalmologists doctors? The answer to this question is yes; ophthalmologists are doctors.

An ophthalmologist is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, usually followed by a one-year internship and a three-year residency in ophthalmology. During this time, an ophthalmologist trains to diagnose and provide care for conditions concerning the eyes.

Ophthalmologist vs. Optometrist: What’s the Difference?

An optometrist is a doctor of optometry instead of a doctor of medicine. They perform eye exams, provide corrective lenses, and notice abnormalities in the eyes. On the other hand, an ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats conditions affecting the eye, in addition to performing surgeries.

In summary, both doctors specialize in eyes, however, their fields and approaches are slightly different. While an ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine, an optometrist is a doctor of optometry. Both had an additional four years of school after their undergraduate degree, but an ophthalmologist is also trained to perform eye surgeries.

How Long Does It Take To Become an Ophthalmologist?

Becoming an ophthalmologist is no easy feat and requires considerable time and energy. But if you’re up to the challenge, the results can be gratifying.

At a minimum, it takes about 12 years after high school to become an ophthalmologist. That includes four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, a year-long internship, and three years of ophthalmology residency. Along the way, you’ll have to take various standardized exams, including the SAT, the MCAT, and the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming an ophthalmologist is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete a minimum of four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Internal Medicine Internship (1 year)

After completing medical school, you’ll have to complete a patient care internship in internal medicine to become certified as an ophthalmologist. During this training period and before specializing in eye conditions, you’ll learn how to evaluate and manage several types of general medical conditions. Some internship programs are combined with the residency program so you don’t have to switch schools.

Ophthalmology Residency (3 Years)

After you’ve completed medical school and internship, you’ll have to match into an ophthalmology residency. To do this, you’ll have to take the USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Once you’ve matched into an ophthalmology residency, you’ll have to complete three years of clinical training to become an ophthalmologist. During this training period, you’ll learn how to conduct consultations for patients, perform surgeries and treat vision issues.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1 Year)

After completing your ophthalmology residency, you may pursue further training in a specialized area of ophthalmology. Ophthalmology fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include pediatric, vitreoretinal diseases, and neuro-ophthalmology. Most ophthalmology fellowships are one year in length, allowing physicians to gain additional experience and hone their skills in a specific area of ophthalmology.

After Ophthalmology Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license, a requirement for practice. You’ll also be able to take the Ophthalmology Board Exam to become a board-certified ophthalmologist. While passing the ophthalmology boards is voluntary, many employers will see this as important – or even necessary – for you to be employed as an ophthalmologist.

Becoming an ophthalmologist takes a minimum of 12 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate about becoming an ophthalmologist, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive is it to Become an Ophthalmologist?

Internal medicine is one of the less competitive specialties in matching into a residency program. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is internal medicine in the US? To answer this question, it is important to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in that specialty but did not get matched. It considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a different specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched in your first choice, this wouldn’t be included. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 2% unmatched rate to internal medicine. This makes it one of the less competitive specialties, so not of the same competitiveness as specialties like plastic surgery (unmatched % 37.3%), orthopedic surgery (34.2%), or otolaryngology (sometimes called “ENT” for ear-nose-throat; 30.8%).

For more on the competitiveness of internal medicine relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Ophthalmologist Annual Compensation

Ophthalmologists have an average annual salary of $417,000. However, this can vary dramatically based on practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Ophthalmologist Annual Salary

Ophthalmologists make $417,000 per year on average

How Much Do Ophthalmologists Make an Hour?

You may also be wondering, how much do ophthalmologists make per hour? And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there aren’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including ophthalmology.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (ophthalmology highlighted in red):

Ophthalmologist Hourly Salary

Ophthalmologists make $173 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was used as an estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming an Ophthalmologist

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students’ hard work and dedication.

Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies and demonstrate an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Each medical school may elect up to 20% of their graduating class to be inducted into AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships and can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is particularly notable for the most competitive fields and/or residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 2% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in internal medicine. In other words, AOA membership provided a slight advantage to matching into an internal medicine residency.

AOA Membership Advantage for Internal Medicine 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 2% match rate advantage for Internal Medicine in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become an Ophthalmologist?

When pursuing a career in ophthalmology, attending a top medical school can make a difference in matching into your desired specialty. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.8 out of 5.

Moreover, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding is associated with a 1% increase in the likelihood of matching into internal medicine as a field. This is potentially because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty.

That said, it is important to remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is ultimately up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Internal Medicine match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with a 1% match rate advantage for Internal Medicine in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become an Ophthalmologist?

Medical training is long and arduous. Remarkably, many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential internal medicine residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these additional degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

The truth is that having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In internal medicine, there was a 0% difference in the match rate for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA and those without. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into internal medicine but it doesn’t hurt them either.

Internal Medicine other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a 0% match rate disadvantage for Internal Medicine in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the overall match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school it was obtained from, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some additional career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming an opthalmologist is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love physiology, problem-solving, and working as part of a team in intense situations. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, ophthalmologists can make a real difference in the world of healthcare.

Looking for an Internal Medicine Residency Advisor?

Looking for an internal medicine residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.

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