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What to expect when working in Ophthalmology in the NHS

  • December 23, 2021

Ophthalmology is a mixed medical and surgical specialty. There are many diverse ophthalmological problems encountered in the UK, particularly in an increasingly aged population. Ophthalmology practice is very diverse, dealing with a variety of issues and clinical conditions.

It is important to note that Ophthalmology is a Senior Led Specialty, meaning that the majority of vacancies within the NHS will be at a Specialty Doctor or a Consultant level. In light of this, in order to secure the best career opportunities for yourself, we would always recommend the MRCS/FRCS/FRCOphth route to GMC Registration. The Royal of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) is the only professional body for eye doctors, who are medically qualified and have undergone or are undergoing specialist training in the prevention, treatment and management of eye disease, including surgery.

What can I choose to specialize in?

Ophthalmologists can develop sub-specialty interests in several different areas. For example, ophthalmologists with a paediatric interest will deal with eye development and diseases in children. Medical retinal specialists deal with retinal disease, including its onset in patients with such diverse conditions as diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, eye disease due to systemic conditions and inherited retinal diseases.

A surge in exciting new technology and treatments in recent years have allowed ophthalmologists to manage patients with ocular diseases in a much more effective way, and this trend is likely to continue as services expand. In the foreseeable future, community or primary care ophthalmologists will increasingly carry out routine procedures and treatments. This will allow patients with more complex problems requiring specialised services and expensive technology, to be treated by hospital-based ophthalmologists.

Sub-speciality areas include:

  • Cornea and anterior segment
  • Medical retina
  • Glaucoma
  • Oculoplastic surgery (plastic surgery around the eye)
  • Paediatric ophthalmology
  • Surgical retina (vitreo-retinal surgeons)
  • Primary care

Medical and neuro-ophthalmology Eye emergencies, of which there are a large number, may be seen first by a general casualty officer but in larger departments a separate Eye Casualty department is staffed by ophthalmologists and/ or nurse practitioners. Patients may present with a variety of conditions from a simple foreign body on the cornea to sight threatening conditions such as chemical burns, angle-closure glaucoma, blockage to the blood supply to the retina, and retinal detachment. Even patients with brain tumours may first present to an Eye Casualty department. Consultant ophthalmologists take part in an on-call rota but night work is unusual.

What should I know?

Ophthalmic patients within the UK encompass the whole age range, from premature babies to the most senior members of the population. Patients are generally well and their conditions not life-threatening. However, eye symptoms and disorders are very common and can cause considerable anxiety – sympathetic advice and reassurance is often required in addition to diagnosis and treatment

Most of the working week is spent seeing patients in outpatient clinics with many requiring follow-ups of an ongoing condition. Although patients often have conditions related to ageing, such as cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration, diseases of the eye and its surrounding structures may be part of an underlying systemic disease, e.g. diabetes. Due to this, within the NSH you should expect to close collaborate with many other specialists, including diabetologists, rheumatologists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, ENT and maxillofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons, paediatricians and geneticists.

Not only will you be working as part of a large Multi-Disciplinary team, as an Ophthalmologist you will also be closely supported by a wider network of ophthalmic healthcare professionals on your NHS ward/department. Such professionals will include:

  • Ophthalmic Nurses
  • Orthoptists
  • Optometrists
  • Electrophysiologists
  • Visual Function Technicians
  • Ocular Prosthetists
  • Ophthalmic Photographers

What will my Rota look like?

A typical day in your NHS ophthalmology Rota may involve any of the following:

  • specialty, general or acute clinics
  • treatment clinics using laser, intra-ocular or peri-ocular injections (inside or around the eye)
  • surgery – performing cataract surgery or other operations in a specialist eye theatre
  • clinical collaboration with other health care specialists

Most NHS consultant ophthalmologists have two or three operating sessions per week (dependent on their specialism), and three or four clinic sessions (which may include treatment clinics). Acute clinics (eye A&E) tend to be managed by staff doctors and trainees in regional eye casualty departments with senior advice available as required.

Your Rota work will likely be based in operating theatres, outpatient clinics and increasingly in community clinics. There is also an amount of ward work which will be embedded into your NHS Rota.

Relocating to the UK

If you are an international Ophthalmologist who would like to relocate to the UK, email your CV to [email protected] and we can support you in securing an NHS post and on your relocation journey to the UK. Please note, Surgery is an extremely competitive field and thus NHS Trusts are fairly successful with their own recruitment processes. With this in mind, BDI Resourcing mostly specialize in Consultant Surgery positions but we can certainly keep your CV on file should an appropriate NHS position arise.

Are you a member of our Facebook group? When you join IMG Advisor, you join a community of doctors all looking to relocate to the UK and join the NHS. We post a series of blogs and vlogs to the group each day. We will also be on hand to answer all of your relocation queries.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel! We have over 60 videos covering everything you need to know about relocating to the UK and joining the NHS.

Listen to BDI Resourcing on the go with IMG Advisor the Podcast! You can listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Buzzsprout. We have a number of episodes with tips and advice on relocating to the UK and the routes you can take to achieve this.

Finally, we have just launched our new Instagram, so if you are a member, feel free to follow us to view our posts and IGTV: @bdiresourcing


Health Careers. 2021. Ophthalmology. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 19 July 2021]. 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 19 July 2021].


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