The ID Medical guide to becoming an Ophthalmologist

The ID Medical guide to becoming an Ophthalmologist

Oct 23, 2020.

Did you know that in the UK over 2 million people are living with sight loss severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives? However, there’s one specialist group of Healthcare Professionals with a particular set of expertise, knowledge and experience to help educate, care and treat the UK and their eye-related issues… Ophthalmologists!

To raise awareness on the importance of our eye health, we want to share our ultimate guide on to becoming an Ophthalmologist within the NHS!

­What is Ophthalmology?

Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine that pioneers the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases of the eye and visual system.  Due to the complexity of the eye, becoming an Ophthalmologist requires a successful combination of knowledge – combining the diagnostic and therapeutic abilities of a physician and the technical abilities of a microsurgeon with a large understanding of the patient’s entire body.

Due to the UK being a very much ageing society, Ophthalmology is a major specialty managing nine million outpatient appointments every single year – making it the busiest outpatient department in the entire NHS.

Due to the huge number of people who experience either ongoing eyesight conditions or sight loss, Ophthalmology is very infinitely diverse; dealing with a variety of issues and clinical conditions.

Some example conditions include:

  • Corneal pathology
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Squints
  • Retinal problems
  • Intraocular inflammation
  • Eye-related neurological problems

A person’s eyesight is hugely important; so when someone experiences a problem with their eyes, the effects can be both physical and emotional. This means that an Ophthalmologist is required to be able to communicate effectively and provide extreme empathy with patients. In addition, they’re also required to possess excellent manual dexterity, good hand-eye co-ordination, excellent vision, impeccable organisation and time management skills – as well as having the ability to work well within a multidisciplinary team.

If you’re an individual where you get excited about utilising medical technology, the introduction of artificial intelligence into your work, and prepared to devote up to 12 years learning and training, then becoming an Ophthalmologist might be the right career for you!


3 Steps to becoming an Ophthalmologist

Step 1: Obtain your Medical Undergraduate Degree

Prospective Ophthalmologists need to begin their journey by undertaking a medical undergraduate degree, to obtain all the practical, theoretical and communication skills needed to become a talented, safe and ethical doctor.

Most UK medical undergraduate degrees are typically 4-6 years in length;

  • Two years of pre-clinical training in an academic environment
  • And two to three-years of clinical training at a university teaching hospital in a community setting.

In the UK, medical schools and teaching hospitals are always closely integrated and so, placement will be arranged by your medical school. The course of study is extended to six years if an intercalated degree is taken in a related subject.



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Step 2: Complete your Foundation Year Training (FY1 & FY2)

Once your undergraduate degree is completed, you are now a qualified doctor – congratulations! The next step requires you to complete your two-year Foundation Training Programme – which is your first paid job as an NHS doctor!

Your foundation training requires you to complete two years, FY1 and FY2. After successful completion of FY1, you’ll be required to register with the General Medical Council.

Your Foundation Programme usually involves six different rotations in medical and surgical specialties. These rotations will give you an insight into the various specialties, allowing you the opportunity to develop basic clinical and non-clinical skills such as communication and teamwork.

Due to the busy and demanding nature of hospitals, it may not physically be possible for you to complete all of your desired rotations and in this case, Ophthalmology. Instead, it’s essential that you obtain a clinical observership during your annual leave for two reasons:

  1. It will give you a true insight into the specialty, helping you decide if you truly want to pursue it as your career!
  2. It will strengthen your training post application as they can be competitive depending on your ideal location within the UK.

Towards the end of your foundation years, if Ophthalmology is still the specialty where your passion lies, then it’s time to apply for that all exciting specialty training post via Oriel!


Step 3: Complete your Specialty Training Post

Following on from your foundation years, you’ll need to apply for specialist training. In Ophthalmology, the duration of your training is 7 years, it’s competency-based and if you start from ST1, it will lead to a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT).

During your first two-years, you’ll acquire the general clinical skills of an Ophthalmologist and have the basic knowledge of all conditions covered.

A typical week will include specialist clinics, ophthalmic casualty work and a range of theatre sessions. You’ll also get the opportunity to get involved in clinical research projects.

To progress onto ST3+ level, you will need to obtain the Royal College Qualification FRCOphth, which includes two written parts and structured visa to assess your patient management skills and investigation, evidence based medicine, research, health promotion, ethics and professional judgment.

Click here to view the Ophthalmology specialist training curriculum.

Please note, if you’re an international doctor reading this guide – then unfortunately, FRCOphth is not an accepted GMC postgraduate qualification and you will still need to sit PLAB in order to secure your GMC Registration. Alternatively, you could obtain FRCS Ophth to as a pathway to GMC Registration and then obtain FRCOphth once you’re in the UK!

Now you understand the steps to become an Ophthalmologist, why not cement your decision with an insight into the pros and cons…


Pros of becoming an Ophthalmologist:

  • The specialty enables you to change the lives of many, giving high patient satisfaction to UK society
  • The job role varies from working independently to a working within a large team
  • The specialty demand is high, which can often lead to higher pay rates
  • Opportunity to sub specialise in an area you are truly passionate about
  • Excellent work-life balance


Cons of becoming an Ophthalmologist:

  • One of the more challenging specialties, due to the intricacies – a small mistake is life threatening
  • Requires depth of knowledge of the whole patient body
  • Some shifts will be hectic and tiresome

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