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The Complete Guide on How to Become an Ophthalmologist

Picking a career in life is a delicate balance of passion and tolerance. What do you love to do and how long can you imagine doing it? For those looking to help others, few things beat Ophthalmology.

Eye health is an important part of living a vibrant life. Today, new techniques and methods for sustaining and even rebuilding ocular functions are available. If you learn how to become an Ophthalmologist, you have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this technology.

You’ll be in good company as well, with over 42,000 Ophthalmologists working in the country. It’s a career that offers a lot of subtleties and benefits to the discerning individual.

The path to the end is a long one that requires dedication and planning. Read on to learn about the scope of education, licensing, and career possibilities. 

How to Become an Ophthalmologist

Like most of the medical profession, becoming an Ophthalmologist requires a lot of education and training to meet rigorous standards. To get this training, you will have to create and build on a solid knowledge base. 

Every step on the journey matters and reinforces others. Don’t worry, it’s not as if the pathway doesn’t have some give. You’ll find the time and the means to develop a life and a career as you go. 

Education path

Any profession that adds some letters to before or after your name is going to require more than one degree. Those degrees typically have to be related to each other and also tend to be competitive. 

Expect to start with the basics, take a few tests, and then complete an advanced degree. After all of that, you will need to go through some licensing and certification before you land your dream job. 


Many people get started on their college degrees while in high school by picking up extra classes in the necessary direction. For a pre-med emphasis, you will be loading up on math and sciences.

Biology and Physics are the most important (understanding optics takes a certain amount of physics) but psychology and chemistry also play their part. 

Take a look at a recommended course list to make sure you both understand the reasoning and get your schedule together.

One last thing to note, when taking general education requirements or knocking out electives, it’s easy to take the sense of relief of being less challenged as a sign that you’re passions lie elsewhere. This is a fairly typical response to any prolonged training so be aware of is as you progress. 

Bachelor’s Degree

The actual degree you complete while in college isn’t actually called ‘pre-med’. The important things to learn come from individual courses that provide a basic understanding for advanced learning in medical school.

Your fellow classmates may be on the same career path as you, but taking different courses or with a different degree focus in the short-term. Even a university that offers a pre-med program will offer different degrees that cover the basics. 

Taking additional technology or computer classes is always a good way to gain an edge on the future. Keeping a high cumulative GPA, especially in science scores, affects medical school admissions, so don’t overload on interests at the cost of your core program.

You save time and effort by picking a degree that overlaps the most with the pre-med courses you need. Still, if it’s only a few classes different between a title you’re not interested in and one you feel has additional value, go for the extra value.


Outside fo the LSAT this is an acronym you’ve probably heard and know what it impacts without knowing what it means. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) looks for basic science knowledge, as well as problem-solving and critical thinking skills. 

You may take the test as early as your Junior year. It’s best to take it when you’re ready, but the timeline to get test scores and use them for admissions applications is tight. To avoid a semester or more delay, always keep up to date on the deadlines for test application and admissions to your chosen schools.

It’s possible to take the test multiple times and retain only your best score. This has some disadvantages in the cost of the test and the stress of multiple attempts. It can also move back your application timeline.

While the MCAT questions change from test to test, the general scope and layout of the test has been much the same for 80 years. A number of preparation courses and study guides are our there to help you understand what to look out for and what to emphasize in your study time.

Some students are urged to get started on MCAT prep as early as their first year to be more ready for the test. While knowing the types of material can help with study, trying to study information you haven’t even taken a class on is both counter-productive and stressful. 

With your scores in hand and your bachelor’s degree nearly complete, it’s time to start applying to medical school.

Medical School

Choosing a medical school is a challenge in itself. You have to weigh several factors, including your scores and likeliness of acceptance against the cost and reputation of the institution.

You may want to study with a specific faculty or go to a place that offers training in a specific technology. 

If you have a specialty in mind, you want to aim for a school renowned for that niche or, at the very least, one that offers courses specifically on the subject.

When applying to med school it’s best to have

  • Cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better
  • Science-course GPA of 3.5 or better
  • MCAT score above 25.2 at least and 30 or better
  • Leadership and research extra-curricular activities
  • Letters of recommendation

Medical school itself has multiple steps within. Expect the first two years to be focused on gaining more in-depth science learning. Lab work will be a large part of your studies.

You’ll also visit and revisit classes on medical ethics and laws governing medical bodies and their regulation. Towards the end of your first years of medical school, you will take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). This test begins the arduous and necessary process of licensing. 


Unlike some other careers where a licensing exam is a one-day written test and then a certificate in the mail a week later, medical licensing takes years and steps to complete.

Step 1

The USMLE starts the process and indicates you have absorbed enough information in your pre-med and first years of medical school to show competency for the scientific method and the basics of medical care. 

Clearing the USMLE indicates your readiness to move from classwork to interacting with the subjects of your future profession: ie, patients.

From here you begin gaining hands-on practical training in the form of rotations. Rotations are named such because you will rotate through several different competencies over the next few years. These are meant to give you core competencies and familiarity with different aspects of medicine.

Rotations typically include: general surgery, psychiatry, neurology, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and internal medicine. Not all rotations are touched on with all specialties.

For Ophthalmologist school purposes, you will expect to visit rotations based on different eye problems and treatment methods

Step 2

At the end of your rotations, you will take the USMLE2 to demonstrate clinical knowledge and practical skills. Passing this test demonstrates you are able to practice patient care without supervision. 

Technically anyone beyond this step is a licensed physician. Many take even more steps at this point to advance from their general competency and secure a job with a hospital or institution.

Internship and Beyond

The next steps include deepening knowledge and going from being a physician to being a board-certified physician. In this case, the governing body is the American Board of Ophthalmology. Applying to the board requires a one-year internship to a participating institution with accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Unlike internships in the business world, these are not unpaid positions or glorified volunteer work. A medical internship is a carefully controlled stepping stone that helps you gain confidence and gain knowledge towards a specialization in the field.


Following the completion of your internship, you start a residency. This final, or second-to-final, step on the road to becoming an Ophthalmologist takes three or more years to complete. A minimum of 36 months of training is needed to gain your board-certification.

Expect to visit and revisit your knowledge from college and medical school during this time. The fields of medicine change rapidly and it’s important that your knowledge reflect current understandings.

You will attend frequent lectures and informational presentations to learn about techniques and technologies in development.

During your residency, you are also employed by the institution doing your training. You won’t be making the same full salary, but it will be a relief after the preceding six or more years of school. 


For a general practice Ophthalmologist, you’ve now reached the end of the path. If you intend to pick up a specialty you need to go through a fellowship. This additional training takes place while you are practicing at an institution.

It’s possible to go through multiple fellowships to acquire multiple specialties and these additional specialties can be acquired later as well.

Career Outlook

With as much as 10 years of training and school behind you, its time to get into a lasting position. Unlike other doctors, Ophthalmologists don’t offer a lot of emergency services. You won’t expect to be on-call or working 14 hour days.

The majority of Ophthalmologists work a standard 40 hour week with some specialties working more hours. Research positions and surgical positions tend to work more hours with surgeons hitting the 120+ hours of other trauma doctors.

Meet Eye-to-Eye

There’s a lot of planning and dedication when it comes down to how to becoming an Ophthalmologist, but the rewards are plentiful. You help people operate normally in their daily lives. You can improve vision from near blindness to provide color and clarity to someone’s life. 

With new technologies and treatments, rebuilding sight and exploring the depths of what humans see is becoming possible. It’s an exciting field filled with lasers, transplants, and regenerative tissues.

If you have further questions about this topic or want to see an Ophthalmologist in action, contact us today.