The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines an ophthalmologist as a medical doctor specialized in the total eye care including diagnosis, management and treatment of eye diseases and injuries, and is trained to perform eye surgery for all diseases and injuries that require one.  As a discipline, ophthalmology also applies to eyes of animals as it does to humans since the differences are minimal and related in many ways.  But the veterinary medical practice is separately regulated so that few countries or states practice the profession in treating both human and animal eye disorders.


While Ophthalmologists are themselves specialists in a well defined branch of medicine, there are sub-specialties.  One of the most common is pediatric ophthalmology where the specialization lies in dealing with eye disorders of infants and young children especially those with strabismus or a condition where the eyes are not properly aligned from birth causing binocular depth perception problems.

Among the many sub-specializations, to mention the major ones, include

  • Neuro-ophthalmology is a sub-specialty either in ophthalmology or neurology dealing with vision problems originating or related to the nervous system, particularly the brain.
  • Ocular oncology is a specialization focused on dealing with tumors of the eyes or eye cancer in parts of the eye or in its entirety.
  • Ophthalmic pathology deals with the diagnosis of neoplastic and non-neoplastic eye diseases and can fall as a specialty under surgical pathology or ophthalmology.

Education and Training

To become an ophthalmologist, a student needs to undergo the standard medical education to be a doctor of medicine and then pursue specialization in ophthalmology for a few more years after a 4-year residency. Your educational path starts with a 4-year pre-medical BS degree in the areas of science and health.  After completion of your college course, you need to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).  Some medical colleges may require additional admission screening while others may accept only those with high MCAT scores to take a 4-ear medical course.  When you graduate, you get a Doctor of Medicine or M.D. degree.  Take a 4-year medical internship with a fellowship specializing in ophthalmology and this will complete your education for the career.

Professional Requirements

Ophthalmology was the first medical profession among other branches of medina that required board certification, now a standard requirement in all state for anyone to practice his or her profession.  Upon graduation or during your residency, you need to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (AGGME) and after specializing in ophthalmology, you nee to take the board exam from the American Board of Ophthalmology.

A Short History

The word is rooted in the Greek word ophthalmos meaning eyes and logos meaning the study or science, so that ophthalmology literally means the science or study of eyes.  The earliest recorded practice of the ophthalmologic science occurred in India as early as 800 BC when the surgeon Sushruta, considered the father of cataract surgery, wrote the Sushruta Samhita in ancient Sanskrit detailing 76 eye diseases including 51 surgical procedures and several surgical instruments used in his practice.

Pre Hippocratic Greece had a good grasp of the eye anatomy as physicians recognized the sclera, cornea, lens and pupil with Aristotle advancing the idea after dissecting the eyes of animals. The Roman Rufus also recognized the conjunctiva as well as Galen who understood the existence of a posterior changer in the eyes.  But it was the medieval Islamic physicians who founded the science of ophthalmology as an independent medical discipline starting with Ion Al-Haytham whose writings on the eye anatomy in his Book of Optics in 1021 referred t the retina as being involved in image formation. 

Ophthalmology in the 17th and 18th centuries saw the invention of the Malphigi hard lenses and it use in microspores by an Leeuwenhoek, preparing the eye for study and later freezing the eye by Petit.  In 1722, Leeuwenhoek noted cell rods and cones on the retina but it was not until 1834 when these were properly discovered by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus. The first recorded ophthalmic surgeon was the British John Freke at the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1727 and the first dedicated eye hospital was established in 18054 in what is now the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.