Practice of Ophthalmology« back

Medicine is a practice, meaning that there is a lifetime of learning through experience and acquisition of new knowledge.  Knowledge is gained through research.


  • The typical ophthalmology practice is 80% medical and 20% surgical.
  • Most common surgery performed in U.S. is cataract surgery.
  • An ophthalmologist can take care of both children and adults, and therefore maintain continuous care of an individual for their entire life.
  • Have opportunity to rejoice with those that we help restore vision, and yet also have compassion for and support those that are struggling with vision loss.
  • Ophthalmologists often participate in research, give local, national, or international lectures, and are community leaders.

Subspecialties in Ophthalmology

The most common type of ophthalmologist is Comprehensive; this is like being a primary care provider for all eye conditions.
However, there are many subspecialties in Ophthalmology, focused on each segment of the eye. These include:

  • Cornea/External Disease
  • Cataract/Refractive surgery
  • Glaucoma
  • Uveitis/Ocular Immunology
  • Retina and vitreous
  • Plastic surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Neuro-Ophthalmology
  • Ocular Pathology

Ophthalmology Practice

Private Practice

Having own business in area of specialty (self-employed), rather than being an employee of a large company, like a hospital.

Advantage: autonomy, control of practice (workload and hours, staff). Often higher financial return for your skills. Usually strictly clinical practice, but can be involved in some research (especially clinical trials with pharmaceutical companies).

Disadvantage: overhead (cost of running the practice) can be expensive, especially with the new costs incurred in converting to electronic health records. Private practice can take several years to build before see financial return (may be difficult for the younger doctor to be in a solo practice due to high education debt).

Academic Practice

Employed by university hospital

Advantage: clinical practice combined with possibility for teaching and research. Employed at institutions that are often tertiary care centers, with multiple medical specialties. Have opportunity to collaborate and discuss complex issues in patient care with other colleagues. Constantly stimulated intellectually via care of more complex patients, teaching/mentoring of students/residents, and weekly educational conferences.

Disadvantage: Less control of schedule. Often less lucrative compared to private practice. Practice often less efficient compared to the private practice due to institutional regulations.

Source: Straus SE, Straus C, and Tzanetos K. Career Choice in Academic Medicine: Systematic ReviewJ Gen Intern Med. 21(12): 1222-1229 (2006).


Laura Wayman, MD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Residency Program Director
Vanderbilt Eye Institute
Comprehensive Ophthalmologist

"I really needed to pursue medicine. . . . I didn't want. . . to regret not having done what I really wanted to do"
"My husband was extremely supportive. . . . none of this could have happened without someone like that"
"If raising a child, going to medical school, trying to be the best wife at the same time. . . need to distribute energy as best as [possible]"
"Rewards of academia: seeing residents grow and mature. . . . sharing some of my knowledge with them. . . to make caring for patients better"


Keith Carter, MD
Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology
University of Iowa
Oculoplastics Specialist

"Ophthalmology is one of the premier subspecialties and is very competitive. . . . Not a lot of role models to ask for help from . . . 25 years ago. . . . Work hard, do a good job, and show you're as competitive as any majority student"


Robert Copeland, Jr. MD
Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology
Howard University
Cornea/External Disease specialist

"What I get back from training residents is that they've made me a better physician"
"Don't let anyone keep you from your dreams"


Stephen Kim, MD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Vanderbilt Eye Institute
Retina/Uveitis specialist

"Dedication, commitment, hard work, and sacrifice are required for you to be successful"



Scholarly or scientific investigation, with the intent of advancing knowledge

Opportunity for discovery of new, or revision of prior, knowledge. Usually starts with a question, then a hypothesis of what the answer to the question may be. An experiment is then designed to test this hypothesis, and data generated by the experiment is collected. The researcher then summarizes the results as a conclusion (which has either proved or disproved the original hypothesis), generalizing the findings to the real world, discussing weaknesses of the study, and considering areas for future research.

Rabb-Venable Excellence in Research Program

Student Research Program through the Ophthalmology Section of the National Medical Association

The program is geared to increase the interest of underrepresented minority medical students and residents in ophthalmology and academic medicine.  Applicants submit a research abstract that is graded by a scientific committee.    Highest scored abstracts are invited to give either an oral or poster presentation at the annual NMA Ophthalmology section meeting, held every summer.  Attendees have the opportunity to interact with ophthalmologists in both private and academic practice, learn how to be a competitive applicant or an excellent resident after acceptance into a program, and how to transition to a career in academic medicine.   Attendees learn presentation and communication skills, what a career in academic medicine is, and how to write and apply for grant funding during a half-day session with faculty from the National Institutes of Health.

For more information, see

Course directors

Eydie Miller and Mildred Olivier
Eydie Miller-Ellis, MD
Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology and Director of the Glaucoma service of Scheie Eye Institute (Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania)

Member of Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Glaucoma Society, National Medical Association
Glaucoma Specialist


Mildred MG Olivier, MD
Assistant Dean for Diversity and Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Chicago, IL

President of Women in Ophthalmology
Association for Vision and Research in Ophthalmology, member of Diversity and Women's Task Force committees
Member-at-large, Board of Trustees of the American Academy of Ophthalmology
Member National Medical Association
Glaucoma specialist


Maurice F. Rabb, Jr., MD

Internationally recognized ophthalmologist for his work in cornea and retina (author of Macular Disease). Was the first black chief resident at the University of Illinois in 1963, and remained on staff there for 43 years. Dr. Rabb was a distinguished academician and Chairman of the Ophthalmology department.

Howard P. Venable, MD

Was the first African American to join the faculty of Washington University in 1958, where he remained until 1987. He was instrumental in recruiting and training many African-American ophthalmologists, and supported student research.


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