Guide to studying Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics
Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics is a branch of medicine that looks after the eye. See what it’s like to study the area, and if the career is for you.
- What jobs can you do with an Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics degree?
Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics deal with the anatomy, physiology and diseases that affect the eyes, including performing operations on them. There are several maladies that 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 operations
- Orthoptist, who looks at how the eye works with the brain to create vision.
Courses similar to Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics include:
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, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics courses help you develop a very specific set of skills as well as transferable ones. You learn how to problem-solve, work under pressure and work well in a multidisciplinary team, all of which can be used in a variety of professions across different sectors.
Other skills include:
- Working with both adults and children
- Attention to detail.
Courses mix together 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).
It's an occupational degree, meaning the chances of getting into professional employment soon after graduating are highly likely. This is reflected on the subject league table; the lowest score for Graduate Prospects is 91%, meaning a large number of students are professionally successful in the industry soon after finishing uni.
The list of specialisation routes within this subject area is substantial. Take, for example, oculoplastic surgery, where you work with plastic surgery around the eye area. Other options include glaucoma, medical retina or diseases in children.
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 gaining a qualification. You have to apply through an employer, and you won’t have access to student grants.
Courses are assessed in a variety of 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.
In the infographic below, the first table shows what graduates of Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics have gone on to do in the months after their graduation.
The second table shows the average salaries of undergraduate Optometry, Ophthalmology & Orthoptics students entering employment. The three skill levels – high, medium and low – reflect the UK's Standard Occupational Classification's major groups 1–3, 4–6 and 7–9 respectively.
Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes Survey 2017/18
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 you start 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, at clinics or in 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 very rewarding profession to be in. You’re able to make a big difference to people’s eyes, vision and lives.