What Does a Veterinary Ophthalmologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019 

Veterinary ophthalmologists are specialists with advanced knowledge of ocular health and specialized surgical procedures that are performed on the eye. It's a veterinary ophthalmologist's job to provide optical care for a large variety of animal species. A veterinary ophthalmologist is a board-certified specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions involving an animal's eyes and the associated structures.

Veterinary Ophthalmologist Duties & Responsibilities

As part of their day's regular duties and tasks, a veterinary ophthalmologist is tasked with performing some or all of the following:

  • Treating various eye conditions, ranging from glaucoma to conjunctivitis, cataracts and corneal ulcers.
  • Performing routine pet eye exams
  • Conducting diagnostic testing for eye conditions
  • Performing surgical procedures
  • Documenting information for case studies and animal patient reports
  • Providing specialty consulting services regarding eye issues to other veterinarians

Veterinary Ophthalmologist Salary

Working as a veterinary ophthalmologist has high earning potential. Many working in the field command six-figure salaries. However, the education needed to practice can be extremely expensive.

Aspiring ophthalmologists do earn a salary while completing their residencies, though the level of compensation is not nearly as much as a veterinarian earns in clinical private practice. Residency salaries generally range from $25,000 to $35,000 per year. The salary range for veterinarians without the ophthalmology specialization is as follows:

  • Median Annual Salary: $162,450 ($78.1 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $93,830 ($45.11/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $56,540 ($27.18/hour)

According to some sources, the average annual salary for a veterinarian ophthalmologist is $215,120, making this specialty one of the highest paying in the Veterinary industry.

Education, Training & Certification

The veterinary ophthalmologist position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:

  • Education: Veterinary ophthalmologists begin their careers in veterinary school to pursue a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. After becoming licensed, a vet can begin the path of study that will lead to board certification in the specialty field of ophthalmology. This process is not easy and requires hands-on practical exposure to animals as well as serious study and certification.
  • Internship and residency: In order to be eligible to sit for the board certification exam, a candidate must meet several significant educational requirements. Candidates must first complete a one-year internship in their related field. After successfully completing the internship, they must then undertake a three-year residency in the field, either at a veterinary teaching hospital or at a clinic working under the supervision of a board certified ophthalmology diplomate.
  • Certification: Once the educational requirements have been completed, the vet is eligible to sit for the board certification exam. The exam is administered by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). It consists of written, practical, and surgical elements which are tested over a period of four days. After completing this exam successfully a veterinarian is granted diplomate status in the veterinary specialty of ophthalmology.
  • Continuing education: Diplomates must also complete continuing education credits each year in order to maintain their board-certified status and to keep their knowledge of advances in the field as current as possible. These credits can be earned by attending lectures, participating in wet labs, and going to specialty-related seminars.

Veterinary Ophthalmologist Skills & Competencies

In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

  • Communication skills: Strong communication skills are essential as veterinarians must be able to explain their recommendations and discuss treatment options with animal owners, and relay instructions accurately and efficiently to their staff.
  • Compassion: Vet ophthalmologists must demonstrate compassion when they work with animals and their owners. This includes treating animals with respect and kindness, and using sensitivity when interacting with the animal owners.
  • Decision-making skills: Veterinarians must decide on a correct and appropriate treatment plan for the animal's eye injury illness.
  • Manual dexterity: Vet ophthalmologists must have very good control over their hand movements and work with precision when treating animal eye injuries and performing eye surgery.
  • Problem-solving skills: Vet ophthalmologists need to have strong problem-solving skills to figure out what is happening with an animal's eyes.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the veterinary profession as a whole will continue to show strong growth of 19% from 2016 to 2026. All veterinarians who achieve board certification should enjoy very strong job prospects in the field.

The difficult nature of both specialty training programs and board certification exams ensure that only a small number of professionals are able to achieve board certification each year. The extremely small number of board-certified professionals in the specialty of veterinary ophthalmology will keep diplomates in high demand for the foreseeable future.

And for those who strive to learn how to become a Veterinary Ophthalmologist, the career outlook looks very promising.

Work Environment

While most veterinary ophthalmologists choose to work in private practice, some are instead involved in academia or other roles outside of a traditional practice, such as research facilities and public zoos.

Work Schedule

Most vet ophthalmologists work full time, and often work more than 40 hours per week. Some may work nights or weekends, and may also need to respond to emergencies outside of their scheduled work hours.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE

Do some investigating to decide if you want to pursue work in private industry, which includes private practices, some hospitals and some private zoos. You may decide that you prefer to work in academia, which would involve teaching and requires several years of private practice experience, among other qualifications.


NETWORK

Attend industry events and meet others in your profession, and consider volunteering your services. You can find volunteer opportunities through organizations such as VolunteerMatch.org, or through non-profit organizations directly.

APPLY

Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit your college career center to find job openings.

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