Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine dealing with diseases of the visual pathways, including the eye, brain, and areas surrounding the eye, such as the lacrimal system and eyelids. The term ophthalmologist implies a medically trained specialist. Since ophthalmologists perform operations on eyes, they are generally categorized as physicians and surgeons. The word ophthalmology comes from the Greek roots ophthalmos meaning eye and logos meaning word, thought or discourse. Differences between human and animal eye care are surprisingly minor and are related mainly to differences in anatomy or prevalence, not differences in disease processes. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (M.D.s and D.O.s) who have completed a college degree, medical school, and an additional four years of post-graduate training in ophthalmology. Many ophthalmologists also have specialized training in one of the many sub-specialities. Ophthalmology was the first branch of medicine to offer board certification, now a standard practice among all specialties.
In the U.S., four to five years of residency training after medical school are required, with the first year being an internship in surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, or a general transition year. Most currently practicing ophthalmologists are board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. Completing the requirements of continuing medical education is mandatory for continuing licensure and re-certification. Professional bodies like the AAO and ASCRS organize conferences and help members through continuing medical education (CME) programs to maintain certification.
Ophthalmology and optometry practice overlap in a few areas. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists perform screening for common ocular problems affecting children (i.e., amblyopia and strabismus) and the adult population (cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy). Optometrists usually refer to ophthalmologists for further assessment and medical or surgical treatment of ocular diseases. Ophthalmologists may refer patients with poor vision to optometrists specializing in low vision for optical aids or low vision rehabilitation. Although both ophthalmologists and optometrists are trained in refraction for glasses and contact lenses, optometrists go through extensive training in refraction while ophthalmologists understand the basics of the optics involved in refracting.
- Anterior segment surgery (the front of the eye)
- Extraocular muscle surgery for strabismus
- Ocular oncology
- Cataract surgery (not considered a sub-specialty per se, since most general ophthalmologists perform this surgery)
- Corneal surgery
- Oculoplastics & Orbit surgery
- Ophthalmic pathology
- Pediatric ophthalmology/Strabismus (squint)
- Refractive surgery
- Medical retina (conservative treatment of retinal problems)
- Vitreoretinal surgery (surgical management of retinal and posterio segment diseases and disorders, sometimes together called posterior segment subspecialisation)