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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Why Become an Ophthalmologist? Ophthalmology Residency Guide

Are you a medical student trying to decide on your specialty? Have you considered becoming an ophthalmologist? While it is a rewarding specialty, you surely have some doubts and questions. Hopefully, I can answer some of them today and make it easier for you to make a decision.

Ophthalmology is a fascinating field with plenty of opportunities for professional growth and success. But it also requires lots of effort and dedication from your side. In this guide, you will learn why you may want to consider ophthalmology as a career path, how to become an ophthalmologist, and what to expect during residency.

Why Choose Ophthalmology as a Career?

Start thinking about the next stage of your career development as a medical professional as early as possible. Best case scenario: before you start your last year of medical school. That would help you evaluate your options and gain an advantage in the field of your choice.

So why become an ophthalmologist and why choose ophthalmology as a career option? If becoming an eye doctor seems like a viable option but you are not completely sure if it is the right fit for you, here are some of the primary motives to opt for an ophthalmology residency:

High demand for ophthalmologists

Ophthalmologists are in high demand. With an aging population, the prevalence of eye diseases and conditions is increasing, and there is a growing need for qualified ophthalmologists to meet this demand. Additionally, advancements in technology and treatment methods in the field are expanding, creating new opportunities for innovation and growth.

A diverse range of subspecialties

Ophthalmology is a diverse field with a range of subspecialties. For example, cornea and external disease, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, ophthalmic pathology, pediatric ophthalmology, retina and vitreous, uveitis, cosmetic eye surgery, etc. As an eye doctor, you can specialize in a specific area of interest, allowing you to develop expertise in a particular field, or you can work as a general ophthalmologist.

If you enjoy working with children, pediatric ophthalmology is an excellent option. An eyecare physician can be conservative, focusing on diagnostic and medical treatment of eye diseases or surgical, performing eye surgery routinely.

Opportunity for immediate impact

An ophthalmologist has the opportunity to make an immediate impact on their patients' lives. Many eye conditions and diseases are treatable with surgery or medication. The results can be life-changing. If you choose ophthalmology, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are improving people's lives and making a real difference.

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How to Become an Ophthalmologist?

Becoming an eye doctor starts with your personal interest in the field. If you find this medical specialty intriguing and there is something that just draws you to it, then you are on the right path as a future ophthalmology doctor.

Do not pursue a career path that brings you no joy or fulfillment. It makes a huge difference when you LOVE what you do. That is when you can find the drive and motivation to grow, learn, and exponentially get better.

Here are the steps toward becoming an ophthalmology resident:

  1. Complete medical school

  2. Complete a residency program

  3. Obtain licensure and certification

  4. Continue education and professional development

Complete medical school

To become an ophthalmologist, you must first complete medical school. Depending on the country, this typically takes four to six years and includes both classroom and clinical education. During your medical school training, you learn the basic principles of medicine and gain hands-on experience in a variety of specialties, including ophthalmology.

Complete a residency program

After completing medical school, the next step is to complete a residency program. Ophthalmology residency takes about four or five years and consists of fundamental clinical and surgical training. During your residency years, be active and make sure to gain experience in all aspects of ophthalmology.

Obtain licensure and certification

After completing your residency, you need to obtain licensure to practice medicine in your country or state. The process involves becoming board-certified. The certification requires passing a comprehensive written and oral examination to prove your knowledge and competency in ophthalmology. Once you get it, you can start practicing.


In many countries, ophthalmologists choose to subspecialise in one of the sub-specialties of ophthalmology:

  • Cornea

  • Glaucoma

  • Cataract and refractive surgery

  • Retina and Vitreous (surgical retina)

  • Oculoplastics

  • Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus

  • Neuro-Ophthalmology

  • Uveitis and Ocular Immunology (medical retina)

  • Ocular Oncology

This is achieved through applying and going through a fellowship. During this position, the fellow is working in a large department that is specialized in a specific ophthalmology sub-field usually for 1 or 2 years. This allows the fellow to see, diagnose, treat and operate on many patients from the specific field of interest while getting guidance from experienced mentors.

Continue education and professional development

Keep participating in ongoing education and professional development activities. These would help you maintain your certification and stay up-to-date with the advancements in the field. Some great examples include attending conferences, participating in research projects, or completing additional training in a subspecialty area.

The Challenges to Become an Ophthalmologist

Becoming an ophthalmologist isn't for the faint of heart. Yes, it is one of the ROAD medical specialties, potentially providing a great work/life balance, but keep in mind this comfort usually comes later, down the road when you become an established ophthalmology specialist. Here are some of the highlights that I believe you should know about:

  • Ophthalmology is not easy to get into as it is one of the most competitive medical specialties out there; competition for residency spots is fierce, and even securing a position is an uphill battle.

  • Once you are in your residency, acquiring practical skills (as simple as doing a thorough fundus examination on your own, laser and surgery) can feel like scaling a mountain. Depending on where you train, you may find yourself seeing more of a certain type of patients or performing specific procedures, which can limit your exposure to diverse cases.

  • You set the pace now. Remember how in medical school you had to attend lectures and learn constantly for exams, well now this is behind you, but there is a new challenge. You are in charge of how much you learn and how you develop professionally. You need to take responsibility and proactively plan, analyze and reflect back on how you perform. You can also talk to a mentor to guide you and give you feedback.

  • The constant pressure to excel in a field where perfection is the standard can be overwhelming. While work-life balance is reasonable, achieving great results often demands not only luck but the consistent investment of time and money for continuous learning, attending courses, conferences, buying books and keeping knowledge up to date. It's easy to feel demotivated when faced with the vast sea of information you must absorb, but patience is key.

Remember, your mentors and role models have decades of experience behind them; you'll get there too with dedication and perseverance, so relax and enjoy the road.

atanas bogoev at ophthalmology wetlab
Atanas Bogoev,MD at Ophthalmology Wetlab

My ophthalmology training journey was very exciting, filled with tests and challenges that pushed me to my limits and tested how determined I was. I got little to no surgical training during my residency, and close to no training on YAG or Retinal lasers.

Nevertheless going through training felt hard, but satisfying in every step of the way. I was enjoying everything I got the chance to learn. Spent many hours learning methodically, invested heavily in courses and conferences, applied to every single grant education that I could get my hands on, and expanded my network beyond my country. And now looking back on it this effort is what catapulted me forward in my career. I have become more adaptive and I feel trill, rather than fear when a new challenge arrives.

My advice is to try and remain in this extremely motivated, hyper-ambitious mode for as long as possible and keep going despite the difficulties, disappointments, and hardships (which are irrelevant long-term).

If you have questions or simply want to say thank you for the awesome article, feel free to reach out via e-mail or at @atanasbogoev.

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