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What does an ophthalmologist do?

Most of us will have heard of an optometrist and have a basic understanding of what they do. An ophthalmologist on the other hand may not be so familiar. Like an optometrist, an ophthalmologist is an eye care professional. You may be referred to an ophthalmologist if you have an eye issue that requires more advanced care than an optometrist can provide.

Keep reading below to find out more about ophthalmologists.

What is an ophthalmologist?

An ophthalmologist (often referred to as an ophthalmic surgeon, eye surgeon, eye specialist) is a medical doctor that specialises in eye care and are different than optometrists and optical dispensers. This means they are able to provide advanced visual care that your optometrist cannot. This includes assessing and managing serious eye conditions like advanced glaucoma and performing surgeries.

Oscar Wylee does not provide ophthalmology services. If you think you may need to see an ophthalmologist, speak to your GP or see an optometrist for further advice. Oscar Wylee has in-store optometrists available to help with your eye care needs. Find one of our stores and come in and see us for more information.

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What does an ophthalmologist do?

As medical doctors that are specially trained in eye health, ophthalmologists are qualified to carry out a variety of eye care services. These include the treatment and management of complex eye diseases and performing eye surgery.

These advanced eye issues, such as diabetic retinopathy, are what ophthalmologists will work with day to day. Ophthalmologists will usually receive patients from referrals, either by a General Practitioner, or from optometrists who have noticed serious eye conditions beyond their expertise. Ophthalmologists will then assess the patient and create treatment plans for their eye or vision problems.

Ophthalmologist vs optometrist - What are the differences?

Both ophthalmologists and optometrists are eye care professionals. What separates the two are their levels of education and expertise.


  • An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that has completed additional, specialist training in eye care.
  • Their main responsibility is to treat eye diseases.
  • Ophthalmologists are licensed to perform surgical eye care.


  • Optometrists provide primary vision care. They are the first point of contact for your eye care needs.
  • Optometrists conduct vision tests, prepare prescriptions and fit glasses.
  • They are university educated and will have received a Bachelor’s degree. They will also commonly have a masters or doctorate degree in the optometry field.
  • They will also be registered to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Collaborative care

Optometrists and ophthalmologists will often work together as an eye care team. Optometrists can make referrals to ophthalmologists for serious eye problems that they are not qualified to treat. Patients may also be sent to an optometrist after being discharged from the care of an ophthalmologist for follow up care. If you want to know more information on these two eye care professionals, see our Optometrists vs Ophthalmologist page.

What conditions can an ophthalmologist treat?

Ophthalmologists are qualified to diagnose and treat a range of eye diseases, outlined below.


Cataract is an eye condition in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, making it hard to see.


Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, causing vision loss. Damage to the optic nerve can be caused by high pressure on the eye.

Partial or complete loss of vision or vision irregularities

If you are suffering from changes to your vision, whether it be vision loss, double vision or irregular eye movements, ophthalmologists will diagnose and treat accordingly.

Retinal abnormalities

The retina is a layer of tissue at the back of the eye. Retinal abnormalities can include diabetic retinopathy, in which the blood vessels in the retina are damaged as a result of diabetes.

Source: Medical News Today

Eye injury or inflammation

Eye injuries and inflammation have a range of causes, including accidents that cause trauma to your eye, or infections.


  • Eye misalignment
  • Corneal conditions
  • Astigmatism

Ophthalmologist procedures and services

In order to treat these types of eye diseases, ophthalmologists provide a range of medical and surgical procedures.

Cataract surgery

To help combat the symptoms of cataracts, ophthalmologists will often perform cataract surgery. During this procedure, your cloudy lens will be removed and replaced with a clear lens, helping you see better.

Refractive or laser surgery

Ophthalmologists provide refractive or laser surgery, in order to correct refractive errors, which occur when your eye is misshapen. This misshapen eye means that light is unable to reflect as it should which causes vision problems. The surgery involves reshaping the cornea to help correct this issue.

Glaucoma Surgery

Glaucoma surgery may involve an ophthalmologist making an incision in the eye, to help relieve pressure and prevent any further optic damage. Glaucoma may also be treated using laser surgery.

Reconstructive eye surgery

Reconstructive eye surgery is considered to be any type of surgery that repairs structures around the eye. Reconstructive eye surgery can treat eye misalignment, drooping eyelids or blocked tear ducts.

Cancer Removal

Ophthalmologists may also remove cancerous tumours in or around the eye.

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Types and subspecialties of ophthalmology

Once opthamologists have completed the appropriate education to become qualified, they can also carry out additional training to specialise in a specific area of eye care. They will then have patients referred to them if they have issues with one of these specific areas.

General (comprehensive) ophthalmologist

A general ophthalmologist will be able to provide a variety of eye care services such as diagnosing diseases, creating treatment plans and performing surgical procedures.

When a patient has a very specific problem like glaucoma, a general ophthalmologist may be able to treat them to a degree. However, they may also refer them to another ophthalmologist, like a glaucoma specialist, who has expertise in that specific area, for more advanced care.

Neuro Ophthalmologist

A neuro ophthalmologist specialises in treating eye problems that have neurological causes. Neurology relates to the brain and the nervous system. So, if someone was to have a stroke and suffered vision problems as a result, this would be treated by a neuro ophthalmologist.

Paediatric Ophthalmologist

A paediatric ophthalmologist is someone that specialises in eye conditions that affect children. These ophthalmologists may treat genetic or developmental eye issues, or problems such as misaligned eyes.

Ophthalmic technician

Ophthalmic technicians work alongside ophthalmologists to provide eye care to patients. These technicians take on an assistive role, helping ophthalmologists care for patients. This role does not require a medical degree like an ophthalmologist, but training is required.


  • Refractive surgeon: specialises in refractive vision correction, fixes issues such as myopia.
  • Corneal specialist: focuses on fixing vision issues relating to the cornea.
  • Glaucoma specialist: focuses on treating glaucoma, a disease in which the optic nerve is damaged.
  • Retinal specialist: fixes issues relating to the retina.
  • Ocular immunologist: a specialist that focuses on eye issues caused by inflammation or immunological issues.
  • Oculoplastic surgeon: performs plastic surgery on eye areas, such as eyelids and tear ducts.

Ophthalmologist costs

The cost to see an ophthalmologist will depend on the person you are referred to and what services you require from them. Ophthalmologists are specialist doctors, so there is often a higher cost associated with their services.

Oscar Wylee does not provide ophthalmology services. If you need to see an ophthalmologist, make sure to conduct your own enquiries about whether or not Medicare can cover some of the cost, or check with your health fund. If you need primary eye care, Oscar Wylee provides optometry services such as bulk billed eye tests. You can book a test online.

How to become an ophthalmologist

Ophthalmologists in Australia undergo a thorough education to become qualified. They are required to attend medical school and then complete additional training at The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, also known as RANZCO. The training to become an Ophthalmologist in Australia and New Zealand can take up to 14 years.

Source: RANZCO

Ophthalmologist salary

The ophthalmologist salary will be dependent on the employer, the level of education and expertise area.

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