Career Advising

Specialty Choice: Ophthalmology


Ophthalmology is the medical specialty dealing with the structure, function, diagnosis, and treatment of the eye and visual system. This includes problems affecting the eye and its component structures, the eyelids, the orbit, and the visual pathways. (Source: AAMC Careers in Medicine)

Associated Societies

Quick Facts

The following information comes from the San Francisco Match based on matched applicants in the 2016 cycle. Information was limited due to a different ranking system.

Advice for MS1 and MS2 Students

Q: What particular activities should first and second year students get involved with who are interested in pursuing this specialty?

Early shadowing is beneficial to gain more clinical exposure. Join the Ophthalmology Interest Group.

Q: Are research experiences important in your specialty?

Not technically required, but applicants in this field have a high number of research experiences compared to others, so research is strongly recommended.

Q: If so, do these need to be specialty specific research experiences?

Any research experience is better than no research experience, but generally plastics or surgical research is preferred.

Q: Does class rank matter?

Yes. AOA status can weigh heavily in your favor for this competitive specialty.

Advice for MS3 and MS4 Students

Q: When should I ask for letters of recommendation (LORs)?

Ideally you should ask for letters in May but absolutely no later than July, allowing your letter writers adequate time to upload your letter prior to the ERAS application submission date of Sept. 15. Your personal statement and CV should be ready as well as many letter writers will request this in order to write you a strong letter.

Q: How many LORs do you need?


Q: Is a letter from a chair required?


Q: Do all letters need to be written by members of this specialty?

No, but at least two or three letters should be from people in the field.

Q: Do any letters need to be written by external institutions?

Obtain a letter from your away programs if you feel you performed well during them.

Q: Does your Step 2 CK score matter?

A high Step 2 CK score can help make you more competitive.

Q: What electives would you recommend for someone who is interested in pursuing this specialty?

Participate in an ophthalmology elective in the beginning of fourth year to obtain a letter of recommendation. Other good electives can include ENT, Plastics, Dermatology, Infectious Disease, Cardiology and Pulmonology.

Q: Should a student interested in this specialty do away rotations?

This is an individual decision based on your goals, but is not recommended by the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology.

Q: If so, how many “aways” do you recommend and when should they be completed?

An away rotation may need to be done, prior to interviews, if you need a letter of recommendation.

Q: Which month is recommended to take off to interview?

Most interviews are in October- December.

Similar Specialties to Consider

Residency Programs

Available Fellowships

  • Oculoplastics
  • Retina
  • Pediatrics
  • Neuro-Ophtho
  • Glaucoma
  • Ocular Pathology

Looking into the Future/Changes in Health Care

Technological developments in cataract surgery. According to Dr. [Mark] Packer, one of the most significant changes in surgery center ophthalmology comes with the introduction of the femtosecond laser.

Age and volume of cataract surgery patients. Dr. Packer says he has seen an increase in younger cataract surgery patients, or patients who choose to undergo cataract surgery before age 65… He says despite the increase in younger patients, however, the majority of cataract patients are still over 65, the age at which Americans become eligible for Medicare. As the baby boomer population approaches retirement age and the number of insured Americans increases following health reform, he says he expects to see an increase in patient volume (Source: Fields)

Additional Information

See the Career Essentials Pilot Page regarding specialty specific advice for more detailed information and resources.


Last edited on 10/04/2016.