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Degree Overview: Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Ophthalmic Technology

Majors Overview March 19, 2015

Get information about bachelor’s degrees in ophthalmic technology and their coursework, career choices, job and wage outlook, and certification choices.

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Programs in Ophthalmic Technology

Ophthalmologists rely on assistance from eye care specialists called ophthalmic technologists, also known as ophthalmic medical assistants or ophthalmic medical technologists, who work alongside them to help in the treatment and diagnosis of eye diseases. Diagnostic testing and collection of data is conducted by these professionals to offer assistance during eye surgery to ophthalmologists.

On-the-job training is received by many ophthalmic technologists followed by completion of an associate’s degree program, but schools also offer a few bachelor’s degrees in ophthalmic technology. Instruction relating to communication with patients, visual instrumentation operation, and the ocular system is imparted to students. Most schools offer bachelor’s degree programs in this field as degree completion programs.

Admission criteria require incoming students to have completed two years of science-intensive college coursework. Upon successful completion of the program, graduates are awarded a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Ophthalmic Medical Technology.


Coursework combines clinical practicum, clinical skills, and classroom lectures. Since most schools offer these bachelor’s degree programs as degree completion programs, students are expected to have completed prerequisite general education courses. Core coursework may include common topic areas such as:

•Ocular motility
•Eye diseases
•Ophthalmic pharmacology
•Ophthalmic surgical assisting
•Ocular anatomy and physiology
•Medical terminology
•Ophthalmic photography

Career Choices

These professionals can seek occupations in:

•Medical centers

Job and Wage Outlook

On-the-job training is the main mode of learning for the majority of ophthalmic assistants (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Ophthalmic technologists may opt for specialization in specific areas, including ophthalmic surgical assisting, low-vision optics, ophthalmic photography, or ophthalmic ultrasonography. In 2012, these professionals brought in an average annual wage of $35,590. Physicians’ offices were the main employers of these professionals.

Certification Choices

While certification is not mandatory in the field, professional credentials will boost career prospects. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) administers certification exams. Certification can be obtained through completion of three training levels, with individuals interested in surgical assisting credentials having to choose a specialty option.

Preparatory Bachelor’s Degrees for Aspiring Ophthalmologists

The broad field of ophthalmology is a combination of medicine and surgery. Ophthalmologists involve themselves in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases in both adults and children. They may choose from sub-specialties such as:

•Ophthalmic plastic surgery
•Cataract and refractive surgery
•Ophthalmic pathology
•Uveitis and ocular immunology

While applicants need to have completed three years of college before they can seek admission to medical school, many incoming students hold at least a bachelor’s degree, while others hold more advanced degrees.

During the initial years of medical school, the focus is on courses such as pathology, pharmacology, physiology, biochemistry, and anatomy; accordingly, aspiring ophthalmologists would benefit by enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program that is intensive. They would especially benefit from enrolling in programs classified as “pre-medical.” Those who complete the degree could obtain a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.).


Coursework can vary by program, but typically includes courses in the social and physical sciences apart from the humanities. Undergraduate students would also benefit through practical experience gained by volunteering at a local clinic. General pre-medical coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Inorganic chemistry
•Organic chemistry

Post College Ophthalmologist Career

A bachelor’s degree is only the first step to a career in ophthalmology. Earning a medical degree and completion of a residency program are also essential requirements for those seeking to become licensed medical professionals. They require continuing education and may need to complete additional requirements to attain board certification.

Medical School Stage

Once they complete a bachelor’s degree program, aspiring ophthalmologists would need to apply for admission to an accredited medical school from among the existing 129. There is a competitive admission process, and students must submit MCAT scores.

Medical school will culminate in a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree after successful completion of four years of full-time study. Clinical rotations under the supervision of experienced physicians are additional to coursework.

Ophthalmology Residency Stage

A residency program leading to an ophthalmology specialization must follow the general medical education stage via an M.D. program. In ophthalmology residency programs, classroom lectures are augmented by research opportunities and clinical experiences. While coursework varies by program, they are all subject to common guidelines established by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s (ACGME) Residency Review Committee (RRC).

There is a rotation of residents between services and hospitals, where they complete general clinical and surgical training, in addition to sub-specialty experiences. Students that are undergoing an ophthalmology residency program spanning two to six years receive a stipend during the on-the-job training.

Certification and Licensing Choices

Licensure can be gained to practice ophthalmology through passage of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Continuing education is required to maintain licensure. Board certification may also be desired by ophthalmologists and would help these professionals to showcase their skills and knowledge to potential patients.

Apart from residency training and medical education, the passage of oral and written exams would also be needed in order to gain certification from the American Board of Ophthalmology.

Job and Wage Outlook

Ophthalmologists can seek occupation in private practices, medical offices, clinics, and hospitals. A job growth rate of 24% has been predicted for ophthalmologists over the 2010 – 2020 decade (BLS). In November 2013, these professionals brought in an average annual wage of $219,860.

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