By the time Karen finished her junior year in college, she knew she wanted to be involved in a health care field. While her grades at a high-powered university made her acceptance at a medical or dental school extremely likely, she didn’t feel she could finance such an education. The optometrist for whom she worked in the summer grabbed her interest when he explained the education and training required to become an orthoptist.
What is an Orthoptist?
According to the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, an orthoptist is an individual who practices orthoptics. This is the science of eye movement and binocular (using both eyes) vision. Orthoptics treats related eye disorders.
The University of Iowa indicates that orthoptists, who work under the supervision of ophthalmologists, perform a number of clinical procedures. Among them are evaluating vision, measuring eye position and assessing double vision or eye discomfort. Orthoptists also take an active role in patient education and treatment and participate in clinical research, publishing scientific articles and teaching.
These practitioners are specialists in eye muscles. While the majority of their patients tend to be infants or children, they also see adults. The demand exceeds the supply of trained orthoptists.
Education and Training Requirements
According to the American Association of Certified Orthoptists, there are 15 accredited programs in the United States and Canada that offer an orthoptic curriculum. While requirements vary among these programs, most require a bachelor’s degree to be considered for admission.
The goal of most students is certification by the American Orthoptic Council. In order to accomplish this, a student must complete a 24-month internship in one of the accredited programs. He or she must then pass written and practical exams administered by the Council, which awards national certification as an orthoptist.
While some orthoptic programs don’t require a four-year degree for entrance, students who want to pursue national certification must have one in addition to completing the two-year internship. Most programs state that while a science, medical or health care background isn’t required, it’s definitely preferred for incoming students. Some programs advise prospective students to include courses in biology, physics and anatomy in their undergraduate degrees. The University of Iowa recommends additional courses in math, child development and psychology.
A student pursues a mix of textbook and hands-on training before graduation from an orthoptic program. Most evaluate more than 1,500 patients in addition to those they observe during their studies.
During their internship, students work under the direct supervision of a certified orthoptist and an ophthalmologist. In addition to introductory courses on the structure and functions of the eye, they learn the anatomy of eye movements. They study the principles of general ophthalmology as well as basic ocular pharmacology, diagnostic tests and differential diagnostics. Initial training consists of conducting preliminary testing under supervision.
Orthoptic education and training focuses on diagnosing eye movement disorders and identifying non-surgical ways to treat them. Orthoptists have a number of employment options. While many work in private ophthalmology practices, others prefer a hospital or clinic setting. Some prefer to work as an independent consultant to several community agencies. Others serve as directors of governmental vision screening programs. Another career option is teaching medical students, orthoptic students, ophthalmology residents, post-doctoral fellows or clinical staff members.