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Most people take for granted the gift of sight and healthy eyes. Yet those who have problems with their sight and other diseases of the eye need specialized treatment. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in the surgical treatment and prevention of eye diseases. Also called eye surgeons, they are trained to be able to deliver total eye care: primary, secondary and tertiary (for example, vision testing, contact lenses, eye examinations, medical eye care and surgical eye care), diagnose general diseases of the body and treat ocular manifestations of systemic diseases.

Many people confuse ophthalmologists with optometrists or opticians. The difference is that an ophthalmologist can operate on the eyes, whereas the other two cannot perform surgery and are only trained to deal with vision problems and corrective lenses. Ophthalmologists provide a full spectrum of care including routine eye exams, diagnosis and medical treatment of eye disorders and diseases, prescriptions for eyeglasses, surgery, and management of eye problems that are caused by systemic illnesses. Ophthalmologists can be medical doctors (MD) or doctors of osteopathy (DO)

Like all medical specialities, ophthalmologists may decide to choose a subspecialty area, such as ophthalmic plastic surgery, glaucoma, ophthalmic pathology, or cornea and external disease. Each of these areas requires additional training and education.

Ophthalmologists treat some eye diseases with medication, such as eye drops or pills. For example, glaucoma causes vision loss by damage to the optic nerve, which transmits light signals from the retina to the brain. In its early stages or less threatening forms, there are a number of pills and topical drops to help cure and prevent the onset.

Other eye diseases may require laser surgery or other operations. Cataract operations are amongst the most commonly performed, safe, and effective surgical procedures by ophthalmologists. Approximately 90 percent of patients who undergo cataract removal experience improved vision afterward. Ophthalmologists use two procedures to remove a cataract: phacoemulsification and extracapsular surgery.

Despite progress in medical research, some eye conditions cannot be cured. Nevertheless, certain steps can be taken to try and prevent cataracts and other eye diseases. Ophthalmologists offer advice, counseling and support while monitoring a patient's condition. Loss of sight can be prevented with regular visits to your ophthalmologist. They also suggest that people wear sunglasses with UVB/UVA protection, avoid smoking, and increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables or take vitamin supplements. An ophthalmologist's goal is to protect people's eyes through early diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions.
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  Interests and Skills  
Ophthalmologists are interested in helping people with disorders of the eyes. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy. Since they are dealing with patients who may be in jeopardy of losing their vision, this can be highly stressful and emotional for both the ophthalmologist and patient.

Ophthalmologists should possess good depth perception, manual dexterity and color vision. They should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of eyes
  • Examine patients for symptoms indicative of organic or congenital ocular disorders, and determine nature and extent of the injury or disorder
  • Perform various tests to determine vision loss
  • Prescribe and administer medications and perform surgery, if indicated
  • Direct remedial activities to aid in regaining vision or to utilize remaining sight by writing prescriptions for corrective glasses, and instructing patient in eye exercises
  • Many ophthalmologists spend about four days in the office seeing patients and performing various non-surgical treatments, and then the fifth day in the operating room. They usually put in about 50 to 70 hours per week, including emergency on-call work. They usually travel between their clinic and the hospital, unless they have operating facilities at their ophthalmological clinic.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Ophthalmologists work in private clinics or in group practices with other eye care doctors. Many also work in hospitals and at universities and research facilities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Ophthalmologists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work primarily as surgeons, specialize in an area of eye surgery, or become directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical eye care companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming an ophthalmologist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a life long learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate studies. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school and then complete a one-year internship followed by a three-year residency program at a hospital.

Finally, before entering medical school it is a good idea to volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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