Simply put, ophthalmologists are specially-trained physicians who deal with the diagnosis and treatment—including surgery—of the eyes. Basically, they are experts in preventing and treating vision loss. Therefore, ophthalmologists need a significant amount of education and training, starting with a degree in medicine followed by 4-5 years in a residency program. Plus, many ophthalmologists also pursue additional training in niche areas, requiring additional years of internships or education.
However, because ophthalmologists strive to help their patients achieve optimal levels of ocular health, they must understand much more than the sciences. That is, they also need good communication skills and must be able to work with teams of other healthcare providers.
Moreover, the quality of an ophthalmology school can impact a student’s overall chances for success. Like medical schools, ophthalmology programs have high academic expectations and stringent admissions standards. And consequently, most residency programs admit very few new people each year. However, candidates can improve their admission chances with a few tips.
First, by participating in research projects at the undergraduate or master’s level, candidates show residency programs that they are dedicated to improving the field. Second, proof of volunteer service—both clinical and non-clinical service—can make candidates stand out. And of course, having a strong academic record is absolutely essential.
The best ophthalmology schools reach from coast to coast, and options in big cities and small towns alike are available. Each program has its own strengths, so candidates should first gauge their own career goals before applying.
10. Stanford University Department of Ophthalmology (Stanford, CA)
Stanford’s mission blends cutting-edge research and clinical service to prepare students to succeed as ophthalmologists and ocular health specialists. Academic programs include a 3-year residency program, a 1-year research fellowship, and post-graduate clinical training in eight different subspecialties. And in addition to these residency training programs and clinical fellowships, the school also offers the 5-week Bay Area Ophthalmology Course, which is open to members of the vision community wishing to gain more training.
Students in the Department of Ophthalmology are encouraged to pursue their own research projects, usually conducted alongside a faculty member. For example, ophthalmology residents can participate in SOAR, or the Stanford Ophthalmology Advanced Research Residency Program. Although admission into the program is very selective, residents receive financial support for their projects, which are expected to lead to innovations in the field.
9. University of Rochester Ophthalmology Residency Program (Rochester, NY)
The Flaum Eye Institute’s residency program at the University of Rochester is designed to prepare residents to become leaders in research-backed ophthalmology practice. The curriculum exposes residents to related disciplines, too, and interns rotate through specialties like internal medicine, surgery, neurology, and emergency medicine. Residents can also take advantage of a partnership with the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in India and can spend a month training at that facility.
In addition, residents have many opportunities to practice their surgical skills through some of the most advanced wet labs available at any ophthalmology program in the country. For instance, the school’s award-winning Kitaro wet lab simulator accurately replicates human eyes, giving residents the ability to practice all steps of cataract surgery. The simulation even gives residents the practice of replacing a human lens with an artificial one.
8. University of Pennsylvania Department of Ophthalmology (Philadelphia, PA)
Through education, training, and community outreach, the University of Pennsylvania has been preparing ophthalmologists to provide outstanding patient care since 1874. Plus, the program is one of the largest in the country, with 63 faculty members researching and teaching in 17 specialties.
On the whole, Penn is known for the research output of its faculty, and the Ophthalmology Department dramatically contributes to that reputation. After all, the department is consistently among the top five recipients of grant funding from the National Eye Institute. Moreover, within this research, the department has over 100 ongoing clinical trials.
Students can participate in these research studies in addition to student-run programs like Penn Sight Savers, which provides public education about the importance of eye exams. Students also give free glaucoma exams to patients in Philadelphia through community events and local health fairs and are encouraged to volunteer at Puentes de Salud, a Philadelphia health clinic targeting the Latino population.
7. University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (Madison, WI)
The University of Wisconsin is a global leader in the education of professionals trained to treat eye diseases. UW-Madison offers a 3-year residency program in ophthalmology with international rotations; the program is very selective and only accepts three new residents per year.
Additionally, 1-2 year fellowships allow participants to gain subspecialty training in seven areas, including comprehensive and pediatric care. Residents can participate in international rotations to learn surgical skills and techniques that are not normally used in the United States.
However, as part of its commitment to the profession, UW-Madison also presents a weekly continuing education program called “Grand Rounds.” Designed for ophthalmologists and optometrists, UW-Madison residents and faculty meet to discuss case studies that are aimed at improving patient care and clinical practices.