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Ophthalmology for Medical Students and Foundation Doctors

Learning ophthalmic skills and knowledge

Whilst most medical students won’t go on to become ophthalmologists it is important for all doctors to have basic ophthalmology knowledge and skills. Whether you’re a GP who is supporting a patient with sight loss or a Foundation Doctor seeing a patient in the Emergency Department who has presented with an acutely painful red eye, ophthalmology skills are integral to providing effective patient care.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists is committed to providing medical students and foundation doctors with support to learn essential ophthalmology skills. At medical school you should leave your ophthalmology attachment feeling confident with the fundamentals of ophthalmic medicine.

Like all areas of medicine, it’s your responsibility to take the opportunities presented to you and seek out more information by undertaking electives and speaking to your peers and NHS colleagues to further your understanding of ophthalmology.

RCOphth Lead for Undergraduates and Foundation Doctors, Dr Michael Williams, shares some thoughts on learning ophthalmology in practice:

Remember, in clinics and theatres, your learning should focus on big issues, not minutiae. For each patient, think about:

  • How would each patient in front of you have presented initially?
  • How would you assess them if they presented to you as an F1 doctor?
  • What would your differential diagnosis have been? (Common things are common!)
  • What would you have told them, before you contacted ophthalmology?

… and keep practising your ophthalmic clinic skills:

  • Visual acuity testing
  • Visual field testing by confrontation
  • Extraocular movement / ocular motility testing
  • Direct ophthalmoscopy
  • Testing pupillary responses”

Finding the right resources

If you’re not sure what basic skills and knowledge in ophthalmology you should have, look at our Curriculum for Undergraduate and Foundation Doctors which covers a full list of core clinical skills, knowledge and learning objectives to help direct your learning. This is simply a guide: you should refer to your own medical school’s specific learning objectives for ophthalmology too.

For Foundation Doctors considering a career and specialist training in Ophthalmology read our overview ‘So you want to be an ophthalmologist’ covering what you can expect from training and a career in ophthalmology.

As an innovative specialty, those working ophthalmology have plenty of opportunity to pursue academic research alongside their clinical work. This guide to Academic Ophthalmology as a Career reveals what is entailed in pursuing an academic career path.

Experience ophthalmology with RCOphth courses

Whether you are considering training in ophthalmology or just looking for a refresher RCOphth runs a course for you.

Student Ophthalmology Review Day

Ophthalmology you learn as an undergraduate can be lost without regular practice. This refresher course is intended for medical students who want to cover the essential knowledge and core skills in ophthalmology. By the end of the course students should be able to safely assess patients presenting with an ophthalmic symptom and make an appropriate management or referral decision.

Enter an RCOphth award or prize

The RCOphth offers two awards for undergraduate medical students interested in ophthalmology.

The Duke Elder Undergraduate Prize Exam and The Patrick Trever-Roper Undergraduate Travel Award are both open to those studying medicine. Find out when the awards open and how to apply on our dedicated awards and prizes page.