Orthoptics, literally meaning "straight eyes," is one of the medical sciences specializing in eye care. Orthoptics is the study of the development of vision, depth perception and the ability to use the eyes together, eye alignment, eye movements, and eye coordination.
The orthoptist's particular area of expertise is the evaluation and management of children and adults with "crossed" eyes, "lazy" eye, double vision, and other eye coordination problems. Other responsibilities may include fitting contact lenses, working with low vision patients, assisting the eye surgeon in the operating room, or screening for vision problems in the community. Though employment usually centers around patient care, the professional responsibilities of the individual orthoptist vary according to the interests, experience, and talents of the individual. For example, there are many opportunities for teaching, clinical research, medical office management, as well as leadership and career development through membership in the professional organization, the American Association of Certified Orthoptists (AACO).
Orthoptics: Setting Things Straight!
My day often feels like half work, half play because gaining the confidence of my young patients requires the child in me to come out.
"What person would not want a career that offers great potential for growth, both intellectually and financially, at the same time having fun on the job?
"I've been doing this for over 18 years, and I am still being challenged, still learning, and still enjoying what I do. I can't even imagine suffering from job burn-out!"
Qualifications, Education, and Credentialing Orthoptic students attend a 24-month post-baccalaureate internship in an accredited orthoptic program. A background in biology, psychology, or geometric optics is helpful, but usually not mandatory. Good communication skills are important, as is creativity and the ability to work with children. Most programs do not require applicants to take the GRE.
There are twelve accredited orthoptic programs in the United States today, most affiliated with medical schools and large teaching hospitals. The curriculum includes classroom instruction complimented with extensive "hands-on" clinical experience under the close supervision of a certified orthoptist. Once the program is completed, the student will have personally examined as many as two thousand patients over the two years of training, allowing the new orthoptist to enter the work force with confidence. Didactics include lectures in child development, embryology and maturation of the central nervous system, anatomy and physiology of the eye and the brain, psychophysical testing of visual function, ophthalmic genetics, and geometric and physical optics, as well as neurological and muscular anomalies of the visual system. All orthoptic programs have a high ratio of teachers to students, so that each student receives ample individual attention.
In order to practice orthoptics in the United States, successful graduates of orthoptic programs must receive certification from the American Orthoptic Council (AOC), the national certifying and accrediting body for this profession. Certification is granted upon successful completion of written and oral/practical national board examinations.
Employment and Career Development Orthoptists work in an adjunctive capacity with ophthalmologists, medical doctors specializing in eye care. They work in a variety of medical settings, including doctor's offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and universities. Most orthoptists are employed in the subspecialty of children's eye care under the sponsorship of a pediatric ophthalmologist. Others choose to work in neurological eye care, rehabilitation medicine, ocular plastic surgery, or even general ophthalmology medical practices. Some orthoptists travel internationally, doing mission work, teaching medical workers in other countries and providing eye care to people in need.
Annual salaries for orthoptists vary depending upon experience, region of employment, and type of position. A recent manpower survey conducted by the AACO found the average starting salary for an orthoptist in the United States ranged from $45,000 - $55,000. Benefits vary by employer, but usually include health and dental insurance, and may also include tuition reimbursement programs, retirement programs, reimbursement of professional dues and certification fees, and travel to scientific meetings for continuing education in the field.
The demand for orthoptists is high. There are as many as five jobs for every trained professional in certain areas of the country! Currently, there are not enough orthoptists entering the work force to replace those who are retiring, and new positions are opening up every month. Even in this economy, when many employers are cutting back, there is a growing need for orthoptists!
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Last updated: November 2003