A common question in eye care is, “Do ophthalmologists attend medical school?” The answer is a resounding yes. Becoming an ophthalmologist involves an arduous and demanding journey through several medical education and practical training stages.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye and vision care. They diagnose and treat a range of eye diseases, perform eye surgery, and are trained to recognize other health conditions that manifest in the ocular region. Ophthalmology is one of the many medical specialties that require comprehensive training beyond medical school.

This article is included in a series of articles on the broad subject of Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist. Another popular article in this series can be found here – Should a diabetic see an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologist education and training

The journey to becoming an ophthalmologist begins with an undergraduate degree, often in a science-related field. Prospective ophthalmologists then take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a fundamental prerequisite for applying to medical schools in the United States. Once they get through the rigorous selection process, they spend four years in medical school earning a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.

Following medical school, these new doctors enter a general internship, typically a year in length. This internship period offers them a broad overview of patient care and helps them develop a strong foundation in general medicine.

Subsequently, they embark on an ophthalmology residency program. This is a specialty-specific training that typically lasts for three years. During their ophthalmology residency, they receive intensive training in diagnosing and treating ocular diseases, performing eye surgeries, and managing complex ophthalmic conditions.

The American Board of Ophthalmology, the certifying body for this specialty in the United States, mandates completing a residency program before an ophthalmologist can be board-certified. This board certification demonstrates that an ophthalmologist has met nationally recognized standards for education, knowledge, experience, and skills in the field.

While all ophthalmologists are capable of general eye care, many choose to specialize further in one or more subspecialties, such as pediatric ophthalmology, glaucoma, or retinal diseases. This additional training, known as a fellowship, typically takes one to two years and allows ophthalmologists to gain expertise in a specific area of eye care.

Optometrist education and training

On the other hand, optometrists, another category of eye care professionals, follow a different educational path. They attend optometry school, not medical school, for four years after their undergraduate studies. While optometrists can diagnose and treat certain eye conditions, they are not medical doctors and do not perform surgery. Instead, their training primarily focuses on prescribing glasses and contact lenses, detecting specific eye abnormalities, and managing minor eye diseases.


The journey to becoming an ophthalmologist involves years of rigorous training and medical education, starting from undergraduate studies to medical school, followed by an internship, a three-year ophthalmology residency, and, potentially, a fellowship in a subspecialty. This extensive training equips ophthalmologists with the knowledge and skills to provide comprehensive eye care, from diagnosing and treating ocular diseases to performing delicate eye surgeries. Thus, the role of an ophthalmologist is pivotal in maintaining and enhancing our invaluable sense of sight.