What is an Ophthalmology Residency?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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An ophthalmology residency is a three to four year training program undertaken after the completion of medical school, which trains doctors to be ophthalmologists. These are eye surgeons who treat people with a variety of eye conditions and who can and do perform surgery when warranted. There are many ophthalmologists specializing in specific areas of treatment, such as pediatrics, glaucoma, or diseases of the retina. Specializing means completing fellowships after residency, extending total time training takes.

When doctors in training think about entering a specialty, they usually consider how their skills will mesh with that specialty. For an ophthalmology residency, doctors need to have a gift for being extremely precise. Steady hand movement and superb muscle control are required to operate on the tiny eye area. Part of it is natural ability, but some of it may be acquired by practice. Medical school students or those completing their year internship after finishing school should weigh whether they possess these skills to the necessary degree before applying for residencies in this field.


In an actual ophthalmology residency, doctors will usually spend three years, or occasionally four, gaining greater responsibility and knowledge of the various types of eye surgery and treatments. Residencies call for people to practice their skills, and as an eye surgeon progresses in a program, they’ll be given more complex tasks to do, ultimately getting to practice surgeries under supervision or performing solo interventions. These doctors can expect most residencies to be offered in hospitals, though sometimes the location of surgical suites is not actually in the hospital.

The first two years of residency tend to be the most challenging, where students must follow the direction of doctors and second and third year residents. First year students will get some basic practice and may rotate through the different specializations in ophthalmology, learning how each specialty contributes to the whole field. Second year students are often expected to supervise first year residents but they also get opportunities to practice complex surgical maneuvers.

In the final year of ophthalmology residency, students decide whether they will remain generalists or choose to specialize. Some of the specialties are mentioned above. Continuing education might mean spending one or two more years in training. Such specializations may serve the ophthalmologist well, increasing employment opportunities. Yet people who don’t specialize may also be in high demand after finishing their residency and becoming board certified. Should doctors choose to take a fellowship, they will be searching for and applying for these, while they complete the third year and are allowed to perform much more extensive surgical elements.

The fourth year is usually referred to as internship, but not all people perform this. Moreover, it’s important to check requirements with the regional certifying board to make sure an ophthalmology residency meets them. Requirements may change from country to country and it’s best to make certain a program fulfills the standards imposed by a person’s specific country or ophthalmology board.



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