Guide to studying Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics
Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics is a branch of medicine that looks after the eyes. See what it’s like to study the area, and if the career is for you.
- What jobs can you do with an Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics degree?
Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics deal with the anatomy, physiology and diseases that affect the eyes, including performing operations on them. Several disorders can affect the eyes only, such as blindness, cataracts and glaucoma.
Professional roles include:
- Optometrist, who examines eyes and looks for defects in vision
- Ophthalmologist, who specialises in disease and injury and often performs
- Orthoptist, who looks at how the eye works with the brain to create vision
Courses similar to Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics include:
- Ophthalmic dispensing
This course is not just for those who would like to become an optician. It opens up a variety of job roles that focus on looking after eyes and vision. You’ll be able to help many people improve their quality of life by spotting and treating eye disorders – potentially even serious neurological problems.
Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics courses help you develop a particular set of skills as well as transferable ones such as:
- Working with both adults and children
- Attention to detail
Courses mix theoretical learning, practical teaching and work placements. During Covid-19, courses have to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This just means the way they are delivered is slightly different. For instance, teaching groups may be smaller, and there may be more remote learning.
The NHS Learning Support Fund is currently offering £5,000 per year to support degree students in England and Wales (with an additional £1,000 for Orthoptics, as there’s a shortage of specialists in this area).
Read our five reasons to study Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics for more information on why you might choose this subject area.
You'll usually need at least two A Levels in mathematics, biology, chemistry or physics. You’ll also need five GCSEs in grades C and above, including in English, maths and science.
Other equivalent qualifications include relevant BTEC, HND, HNC, NVQ, Highers and Access courses.
Grade requirements depend on the university. Always confirm the entry requirements for the particular university and course you are interested in.
Tips for applying
Work experience will really help your application. If you can, spend time with a professional in your chosen area to get a good understanding of what they do. You could also volunteer or work with a local organisation, for example:
- Orthoptic department
- Health clinic
Courses usually involve practical placements where you work with members of the public. For public protection and safety, you’ll have to complete a DBS disclosure check (for criminal records).
- BSc Ophthalmic Dispensing
- BSc Orthoptics
- BSc Professional Practice
- BSc Health and Veterinary Studies (Orthoptics)
You could pursue a degree apprenticeship, where you work and earn while qualifying. You have to apply through an employer, and you won’t have access to student grants.
Courses are assessed in various ways, such as coursework, presentations, written exams and practical tests.
Examples of taught MAs and research degrees at postgraduate level include straight MAs in Ophthalmics, as well as master's courses in Clinical Ophthalmology, Vision Research, Diabetes and the Eye, Glaucoma Studies, and Vision and Strabismus.
As well as optometrist, ophthalmologist and orthoptist, job roles include:
- GP or hospital doctor
You could specialise in a certain area, such as:
- Sports vision
- Specific conditions, such as diabetes or glaucoma
- Contact lenses
Numerous companies offer graduate schemes, including the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
With experience, you could progress into a more senior role, manage a team or become a consultant. Many choose to move into teaching or research, or even set up a private practice.
You’ll usually need an approved qualification in the subject area – at either degree level or through a degree apprenticeship.
You have to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before practising professionally.
You may also have to complete a pre-registration work placement with a registered professional in your area. Additionally, you may have to pass the General Optical Council (GOC) final assessment to qualify.
What’s it like to be an optometrist, ophthalmologist or orthoptist?
Depending on your role, your daily tasks could include:
- Diagnosing issues of and around the eye
- Using specialist equipment to test vision
- Prescribing and fitting glasses or contact lenses
- Treating issues such as diseases
- Giving practical advice
- Referring clients to specialists
- Carrying out surgical procedures
Your work could be based in the NHS or a private hospital, clinics, or community environments. You’ll work alongside other healthcare professionals in similar fields, such as vision scientists.
Once qualified, you’ll have regular Continuing Professional Development (CPD) meetings, where you discuss future career goals. You can become a member of organisations such as the British and Irish Orthoptic Society, which support your career development.
A working week is typically 37.5 hours, and you may have to work evenings and weekends. Salaries are on the Agenda for Change system (the NHS staff grading and pay scale), usually on band 5. With the NHS, you’ll have access to generous pension schemes, holiday allowances and health service discounts.
Is a role as an optometrist, ophthalmologist or orthoptist right for you?
It can be a challenging area, especially if you’re performing advanced medical surgery on people’s eyes. Despite this, it can be a gratifying profession to be in. You’re able to make a big difference to people’s eyes, vision and lives.