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Orthoptist


Description

People who have trouble with lazy or crossed eyes need to see medical specialists for therapy and corrective eye treatments. Orthoptists evaluate and treat disorders of vision, eye movements, and eye alignment in children and adults. Orthoptics comes from the Greek, "ortho" - straight and "optikas"- for vision. Therefore, orthoptists literally help people attain straight vision. It is a specialized field in ophthalmology, dealing with very specific eye problems, such as lazy eye (amblyopia), crossed eyes (strabismus), focusing, eyeteaming and tracking disorders. They employ special lenses, filters, prisms and instruments along with computer to help people correct their vision.

Orthoptists assist ophthalmologists in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders by performing specialized eye tests to measure and assess defective binocular vision or abnormal eye movement in patients. They prescribe treatments such as eye exercises or patching regimens. They perform a series of diagnostic tests to assess a patient's vision and seek treatment methods. Orthoptists interpret the results of the tests to suggest a treatment plan, which may include surgery by an ophthalmologist. Treatment may alternatively involve the use of exercises and techniques to control eye movements.

The orthoptist acts as the liaison between the ophthalmologist and the patient, assisting in the explanation and execution of the treatment. Working as a consultant, the orthoptist may travel to several offices or clinics to see patients or work as a professional advisor to vision-related community agencies.

Orthoptists may decide to specialize in a specific are of orthoptics. This may include ultrasonography, fundus photography, tonometry and contact lens management. They may work only with pediatric groups such as pre-school children and children whose physical development has been slow, or in visual rehabilitation, which includes stroke patients, visually impaired patients and head injury patients. Accordingly, there is the option of teaching and conducting research on a full time basis.

Many orthoptist's patients are children who suffer from strabismus or crossed eyes. One eye focuses properly, but the other eye strays, creating a cross-eyed appearance. One eye may also be higher or lower than the other. Adults, as well as approximately two to four percent of all children, suffer from strabismus. Treatment may consist of the use of eye exercises, eyeglasses, eye patches, prisms, surgery, or a combination of methods to correct focusing errors.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Orthoptists are interested in helping people with disorders of the eyes. 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 might sometimes deal with patients in jeopardy of losing their vision, this can be highly stressful and emotional for both the ophthalmologist and patient.

Orthoptists should possess good depth perception, manual dexterity and color vision. They should enjoy finding solutions to problems and constantly dealing with all kinds of people. 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  
  • Aid people with correctable focusing defects to develop and use binocular vision
  • Measure visual acuity, focusing ability and eye-motor movement of eyes, separately and jointly
  • Aid patients to move, focus, and coordinate both eyes to aid in visual development
  • Develop visual skills, near-visual discrimination and depth perception using developmental glasses and prisms
  • Direct patients in eye exercises
  • Instruct adult patients or parents of young patients in utilization of corrective methods at home
  • A typical day for an orthoptist will range from standing during eye tests and treatment to sitting at a desk, writing reports and plans for treatments with eye surgeons. Working with very young or fearful children may be stressful at times, therefore the position requires a great deal of patience. They generally work standard 40- to 50-hour workweeks, including occasional weekends and evenings to accommodate patients' schedules.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Orthoptists work in eye clinics or ophthalmologists' offices. Some orthoptists work for more than one private practice and travel around from clinic to clinic assisting ophthalmologists. They also work in hospitals, medical research facilities, or at universities.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A few experienced orthoptists may advance to the position of clinic supervisors. Large teaching hospitals or medical centers may have teaching positions for orthoptists with advanced professional studies and broad experience. Orthoptists may also participate in clinical research and in the presentation and publication of scientific papers.
 

  Educational Paths  
The first step to becoming an orthoptist is a minimum of two years of university education with a specialization in science. However, most students attain a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree. Then students enroll in a two-year accredited hospital-based training program in orthoptics including practical training under the supervision of an ophthalmologist.
 

Sources:
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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