An Eye M.D., or an Ophthalmologist, is a medical doctor. Similar to your primary care doctor or any other medical specialist, an ophthalmologist has earned a 4-year college degree followed by 4 years of medical school. After medical school, all doctors must complete a residency before going out into the world to practice (the first year of residency is typically called the internship year). Ophthalmologist do a limited amount of training related to the eye during their internship. Instead, the internship is is designed to help the recent medical school graduate become a complete physician. Ophthalmologists can complete their internship in Internal Medicine or General Surgery. There is even an internship called a Transitional Internship (usually highly competitive to obtain) that is a mix of Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Pediatrics, and Emergency Medicine.

Only after completing this internship does the ophthalmologist continue on to the next 3 years of residency which is specifically focused on ophthalmology (diseases and surgery of the eye and visual system). During those 3 years, the ophthalmology resident learns the ins and outs of diagnosing and treating all disorders of the vision system. Residents rotate through each of the sub-specialties which include:

  • Cornea and External Disease
  • Refractive Surgery
  • Glaucoma
  • Neuro-Ophthalmology
  • Ophthalmic Pathology
  • Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery
  • Pediatric Ophthalmology
  • Vitreoretinal Diseases
  • Ocular Oncology
  • Ocular Immunology and Uveitis

After completing the 1-year internship and 3-year residency, ophthalmologist are able to practice general (comprehensive) ophthalmology. However, some ophthalmologists continue their training and become sub-specialists in one of the above mentioned fields of study. To become a sub-specialist, an ophthalmologist completes what is called a fellowship. Most fellowships involve an additional 1-2 years of training focused on one sub-specialty. So, by the time an ophthalmologist begins practicing, he or she will have undergone 12 years of training (and some will have undergone an additional 1-2 years of training to become sub-specialists).

This training process differs tremendously from the training of optometrists who complete 4 years of college followed by 4 years of optometry school. Optometry school is predominantly focused on the correction of vision with glasses, contact lenses, and other technological devices. Optometrists have been granted limited privileges to treat allergy, dry eye, some infections, and glaucoma (under specific circumstances in conjunction with an ophthalmologist). Optometrists are NOT trained to diagnose and treat ALL conditions of the vision system and likewise, they are NOT trained or licensed to perform surgery.

In some states, optometrists have attempted to expand their scope of practice.  It is very important for the general public to be informed and to understand what an ophthalmologist is and how their training differs from that of an optometrist.





This site is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this site and linkages to other sites, the San Antonio Society of Ophthalmology provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided on this site, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider. If you need to find an Eye M.D., please feel free to utilize our Directory of Eye M.D.’s in San Antonio, Texas (For Patients>Directory of SA Eye MD’s).