A phoropter in use.
Slit lamp examination of eyes in an Ophthalmology Clinic

Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine which deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye. The term ophthalmologist refers to a specialist in medical and surgical eye problems. Since ophthalmologists perform operations on eyes, they are considered to be both a surgical and medical specialty.

The word ophthalmology comes from the Greek roots ophthalmos meaning eye and logos meaning word, thought, or discourse; ophthalmology literally means "the science of eyes". "Opthomology" is a common mis-hearing or mis-remembering of the term. As a discipline, it applies to animal eyes also, since the differences from human practice are surprisingly minor and are related mainly to differences in anatomy or prevalence, not differences in disease processes. However, veterinary medicine is regulated separately in many countries and states/provinces resulting in few ophthalmologists treating both humans and animals.



Sushruta wrote Sushruta Samhita in Sanskrit in about 800 BC He described about 76 ocular diseases as well as several ophthalmological surgical instruments and techniques. His description of cataract surgery was more akin to extracapsular lens extraction than to couching.[1]. The Indian surgeon Sushruta has been described as the first cataract surgeon.[2][3]


The pre-Hippocratics largely based their anatomical conceptions of the eye on speculation, rather than empiricism. They recognized the sclera and transparent cornea running flushly as the outer coating of the eye, with an inner layer with pupil, and a fluid at the centre. It was believed, by Alcamaeon and others, that this fluid was the medium of vision and flowed from the eye to the brain via a tube. Aristotle advanced such ideas with empiricism. He dissected the eyes of animals, and discovering three layers (not two), found that the fluid was of a constant consistency with the lens forming (or congealing) after death, and the surrounding layers were seen to be juxtaposed. He, and his contemporaries, further put forth the existence of three tubes leading from the eye, not one. One tube from each eye met within the skull.


Rufus recognised a more modern eye, with conjunctiva, extending as a fourth epithelial layer over the eye. Rufus was the first to recognise a two chambered eye; with one chamber from cornea to lens (filled with water), the other from lens to retina (filled with an egg-white-like substance). Galen remedied some mistakes including the curvature of the cornea and lens, the nature of the optic nerve, and the existence of a posterior chamber. Though this model was roughly a correct but simplistic modern model of the eye, it contained errors. Yet it was not advanced upon again until after Vesalius. A ciliary body was then discovered and the sclera, retina, choroid and cornea were seen to meet at the same point. The two chambers were seen to hold the same fluid as well as the lens being attached to the choroid. Galen continued the notion of a central canal, though he dissected the optic nerve, and saw it was solid, He mistakenly counted seven optical muscles, one too many. He also knew of the tear ducts.

Middle Eastern ophthalmology

Of all the branches of Islamic medicine, ophthalmology was considered one of the foremost. It was during this period that ophthalmology began being treated as an independent medical discipline in its own right. As such, medieval islamic physicians are considered founders of ophthalmology as an independent discipline.[4] One of the pioneers of ophthalmology was the great Persian physician Rhazes. Scores of specialized instruments were developed. Innovations such as the “injection syringe”, invented by the Iraqi physician Ammar ibn Ali of Mosul, which was used for the extraction by suction of soft cataracts, were quite common. In cataract surgery, Ammar ibn Ali attempted the earliest extraction of cataracts using suction. He introduced a hollow metallic syringe hypodermic needle through the sclera and successfully extracted the cataracts through suction.[5]

Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) wrote extensively on optics and the anatomy of the eye in his Book of Optics (1021). He was the first to hint at the retina being involved in the process of image formation.[6]

Ibn al-Nafis, in The Polished Book on Experimental Ophthalmology, discovered that the muscle behind the eyeball does not support the ophthalmic nerve, and that the optic nerves transect but do not get in touch with each other. He also discovered new treatments for glaucoma and the weakness of vision in one eye when the other eye is affected by disease.[7] Salah–ud-din bin Youssef al-Kalal bi Hama (i.e. the eye doctor of Hama) was a Syrian oculist who flourished in Hama in 1296. He wrote for his son an elaborate treatise of ophthalmology entitled Nur al-Uyun wa Jami al-Funun (light of the eyes and collection of rules).

Seventeenth and eighteenth century

The seventeenth and eighteenth century saw the use of hand lenses (by Malpighi), microscopes (van Leeuwenhoek), preparations for fixing the eye for study (Ruysch) and later the freezing of the eye (Petit). This allowed for detailed study of the eye and an advanced model. Some mistakes persisted such as: why the pupil changed size (seen to be vessels of the iris filling with blood), the existence of the posterior chamber, and of course the nature of the retina. In 1722 Leeuwenhoek noted the existence of rods and cones though they were not properly discovered until Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus in 1834 by use of a microscope.

Ophthalmic surgery in Great Britain

The first ophthalmic surgeon in Great Britain was John Freke, appointed to the position by the Governors of St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1727, but the establishment of the first dedicated ophthalmic hospital in 1805; now called Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England was a transforming event in modern ophthalmology. Clinical developments at Moorfields and the founding of the Institute of Ophthalmology (now part of the University College London) by Sir Stewart Duke Elder established the site as the largest eye hospital in the world and a nexus for ophthalmic research.

Professional requirements

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (M.D. or D.O., not O.D.) who have completed a college degree, medical school,additional residency and internship training and further additional four to five years of postgraduate training in ophthalmology. In many countries, ophthalmologists also undergo additional specialized training in one of the many subspecialities. Ophthalmology was the first branch of medicine to offer board certification, now a standard practice among all specialties.

Australia and New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealand, the FRACO/FRANZCO is the equivalent postgraduate specialist qualification. It is a very competitive speciality to enter training and has a closely monitored and structured training system in place over the five years of postgraduate training. Overseas-trained Ophthalmologists are assessed using the pathway published on the RANZCO website. Those who have completed their formal training in the UK and have the CCST/CCT are usually deemed to be comparable.


In Canada, an Ophthalmology residency after medical school is undertaken. The residency lasts a minimum of five years after the MD degree although subspecialty training is undertaken by about 30% of fellows (FRCSC). There are about 30 vacancies per year for ophthalmology training in all of Canada.


In Finland, physicians willing to become Ophthalmologists must undergo a five year specialization which includes practical training and theoretical studies.


In Germany, physicians willing to become Ophthalmologists must undergo a five year specialization of practical training.


In India, after completing MBBS degree, post-graduation in Ophthalmology is required. The degrees are Doctor of Medicine (MD), Master of Surgery (MS), Diploma in Ophthalmic Medicine and Surgery (DOMS) or Diplomate of National Board (DNB). The concurrent training and work experience is in the form of a Junior Residency at a Medical College, Eye Hospital or Institution under the supervision of experienced faculty. Further work experience in form of fellowship, registrar or senior resident refines the skills of these eye surgeons. All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS) and various state level Ophthalmological Societies (like DOS) hold regular conferences and actively promote continuing medical education. Royal colleges of the united kingdom, mainly Royal college of surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), Royal College of ophthalmologists (RCOphth) and Royal college of physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) are conducting their fellowship and membership examinations since mid 1990s and awarding fellowships and memberships to the successful candidates.


In Pakistan, after MBBS, a 2 year residency programme leads to FCPS in Ophthalmology. Moreover, MCPS and DOMS are also being offered.[1] M.S.(Ophthalmology) is also one of the specialty programmes. In addition to programmes for Doctors, various diplomas and degrees for Opticians are also being offered to produce competent Optic technicians in this field. These programmes are being offered notably by Punjab Institute of Preventive Ophthalmology (PIPO) Lahore,Pakistan.[2] Sub-specialty Fellowships are also being offered in the field of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Vitreo-Retinal Ophthalmology.


Ophthalmology is a considered a medical specialty that uses medicine and surgery to treat diseases of the eye. To become a general ophthalmologist, a candidate must have completed a Doctor of Medicine degree or its equivalent (e.g. MBBS...), have passed the physician licensure exam, completed an internship in medicine, and completed residency at any Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology (PAO)[8] accredited program. Attainment of board certification in ophthalmology from PBO is optional, but is preferred and required to gain privileges in most major health institutions. Graduates of residency programs can receive further training in subspecialties of ophthalmology such as neuro-ophthalmology, etc. by completing a fellowship program which varies in length depending on each program's requirements. The leading professional organization in the country is the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology[9] which also regulates ophthalmology residency programs and board certification through its accrediting agency, the Philippine Board of Ophthalmology.

United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland

In the United Kingdom, there are three colleges that grant postgraduate degrees in ophthalmology. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists grants MRCOphth and FRCOphth (postgraduate exams), the Royal College of Edinburgh grants MRCSEd, the Royal College of Glasgow grants FRCS. In Ireland the Royal College of Ireland grants FRCSI. Work experience as a specialist registrar and one of these degrees is required for specialisation in eye diseases.

United States

In the United States, four years of residency training after medical school are required, with the first year being an internship in surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, or a general transition year. Optional fellowships in advanced topics may be pursued for several years after residency. Most currently practicing ophthalmologists train in medical residency programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and are board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. Some physicians train in osteopathic medical schools may hold a Doctor of Osteopathy ("DO") degree rather than an MD. The same residency and certification requirements for ophthalmology training must be fulfilled by osteopathic physicians. Completing the requirements of continuing medical education is mandatory for continuing licensure and re-certification. Professional bodies like the AAO and ASCRS organize conferences and help members through continuing medical education programs to maintain certification, in addition to political advocacy and peer support.


Ophthalmology includes sub-specialities which deal either with certain diseases or diseases of certain parts of the eye. Some of them are:

Ophthalmic surgery

Notable ophthalmologists

Pre-18th century

18th-19th century

20th-21st century

See also


  1. Roy, P.N., Mehra, K.S. and Deshpande, P.J. (1975), Cataract surgery performed before 800 BC, British Journal of Ophthalmology, 59, page 171
  2. "Susruta: The Great Surgeon of Yore". Infinityfoundation.com. http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/t_es/t_es_agraw_susruta.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  3. "Sushruta: the father of Indian surgery and ophthal...[Doc Ophthalmol. 1997] - PubMed Result". Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9476614?dopt=abstractplus. Retrieved 2008-11-04. 
  4. David C. Lindberg (1980), Science in the Middle Ages, University of Chicago Press, p. 21, ISBN 0226482332 
  5. Ibrahim B. Syed PhD, "Islamic Medicine: 1000 years ahead of its times", Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine, 2002 (2): 2-9 [7].
  6. N. J. Wade (1998). A Natural History of Vision.. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.. 
  7. Mohamad S. M. Takrouri (King Khalid University Hospital Riyadh), Medical aspects of Ala al-Din Abu'l-Hasan Ali Ibn Abi'l-Haram al-Qurashi (Ibn al-Nafis)'s contributions to science
  8. Pao.org.ph
  9. Pao.org.ph
  10. Acvo.com
  11. Ecvo.org
  12. Esvo.org

External links