The journey to becoming an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor (MD) specializing in eye care, begins in medical school but continues beyond there. After finishing medical school, aspiring ophthalmologists must complete an ophthalmology residency program. This demanding and rigorous program provides clinical and surgical training to diagnose and treat various eye conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts.

This article is part of a series of blog posts on the subject of Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist. Please check out another popular articles in this series – Can an Optometrist detect eye disease?

The Length and Structure of Ophthalmology Residency

Ophthalmology residency typically spans four years following medical school. The first year, known as the transitional year or internship, usually involves a broad range of medical rotations allowing residents to consolidate their general medical knowledge. The Department of Ophthalmology then becomes the central focus for the remaining three years, during which the ophthalmology resident gradually gains proficiency in ocular health and diseases.

The second year of residency often involves:

The residents participate more fully in patient care, providing essential services in outpatient settings and occasionally assisting in surgical procedures, like cataract surgery.

As they progress, they deepen their understanding of ocular pathology and learn to manage more complex eye conditions. The third and fourth years provide more specialized and advanced surgical exposure, including but not limited to retina, ophthalmic plastic (oculoplastics), and neuro-ophthalmology procedures.

Subspecialties and Further Training Opportunities

After completing the general ophthalmology residency, some ophthalmologists choose to undergo additional fellowship training in one of the various subspecialties. These may include glaucoma, retina, neuro-ophthalmology, oculoplastics, pediatric ophthalmology, or strabismus. Each fellowship typically lasts one to two years and allows the ophthalmologist to gain a higher level of expertise in a specific area of eye care.

For example, a fellowship in glaucoma would involve advanced training in diagnosing and treating glaucoma and mastering surgical procedures involving intraocular pressure regulation. Similarly, an oculoplastics fellowship would focus on conditions affecting the structures around the eye, including the eyelids, orbit, and tear ducts.

The Path to Ophthalmology Residency: Application and Match Process

Ophthalmology residency programs in the United States do not participate in the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). Instead, they use a separate matching service called the San Francisco Match (SF Match). During the final year of medical school, students interested in ophthalmology submit their applications through the SF Match.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology provides resources and guidance to aspiring ophthalmologists throughout their medical school and residency training. In addition, it supports the growth and development of ophthalmologists by promoting high standards in ophthalmology training and patient care.


The path to becoming an ophthalmologist is a demanding yet rewarding journey that involves medical school, ophthalmology residency, and, potentially, a fellowship. The training equips doctors with the necessary skills to provide comprehensive eye care, from diagnosing and treating common ocular conditions to performing complex surgical procedures. As they move through their residency, these professionals learn to provide patient care that significantly impacts their patients’ quality of life. Ultimately, the journey leads to a rewarding career as a specialist in one of the most intricate and fascinating fields of medicine.