How to Become an Orthoptist

How to Become an Orthoptist

Orthoptists are healthcare practitioners who specialize in treating patients with eye problems. They work with patients of all ages and often collaborate with other eye care professionals, including optometrists and vision scientists. If you have a passion in helping people with health problems get better and the will to pursue a three-year degree, this could be the career for you.

The Work

The work of orthoptists mainly involves diagnosing and treating eye conditions and disorders that affect eye muscles, eye vision, eye movement and connected nerves. They normally receive patients from the neurology and eye causality departments of a hospital, as well as referrals from general practitioners.

Examples of eye conditions that orthoptists treat and manage include;

  • Retinal diseases
  • Strokes
  • Cataract
  • Glaucoma
  • Neurological disorders

Apart from diagnosing eye problems, orthoptists also;

  • Recommend appropriate treatment methods, such as surgery, use of low vision aids or use of eye patches
  • Maintain up to date records of clients’ eye health information
  • Organize supplies for orthoptic department
  • Instruct and supervise trainee orthoptists
  • Engage in field activities such as departmental research projects and eye health awareness campaigns

Work Environment

Orthoptists work in a range of settings, predominantly hospital consultation rooms, wards and outpatient clinics. They can also be based in school clinics, research centers or mobile clinics when doing community work. An orthoptist may choose to combine any two work settings. These areas must be very clean, well lit and comfortable.

Orthoptists generally work 37.5 hours a week. They often have flexible working patterns with part time and job sharing options available.


Orthoptists working for the National Health Service are paid using the Agenda for Change pay structure. The following table shows the average amount of money they earn in a year;

Job Level

Annual Wage

Newly qualified orthoptists (Band 5)


Specialist orthoptists (Band 6)


Advanced orthoptists (Band 7)


Head of service


Salaries in the private sector also vary with level of experience.

Source: National Careers Service

Entry Requirements

To become an orthoptist, you must complete a three-year degree in orthoptics. In the UK, only the following universities are accredited by the Health and Care Profession Council;

To qualify for admission into an orthoptists degree, you must have:

  • Five GCSEs (A-C) in subjects like English, math, biology and physics
  • Three A levels (at Grade B). Biology should be one of the subjects.

It is beneficial to have some previous work experience to enhance your chances of admission into an orthoptics degree. This is because there is stiff completion for admission places.

The NHS pays tuition fees for all UK students pursuing this degree. Orthoptics students can apply for a means tested bursary and non-means tested bursary of £1000.

Training and Advancement

While pursuing the orthoptics degree, you will study the following subjects;

  • Medical ethics
  • The science of light (optics)
  • Child health and pediatrics
  • Binocular vision
  • The organization and structure of the NHS.

During the course of your degree, you will spend about 33 weeks in clinics, hospitals or any potential orthoptist work place, working under the full supervision of a qualified and certified tutor.

It is advisable to join the British and Irish Orthoptic Society as it offers a lot of career development resources and opportunities, including work placements for students.

After completing your undergraduate studies, you can pursue advanced qualifications such as master’s and PhD in orthoptics.

Skills, Interests and Abilities

Orthoptists work with sophisticated equipment, technology and people. They, therefore, require the following skills and abilities to excel in the job:

  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • Good teamwork skills
  • Good practical skills to operate medical equipment
  • The ability to read measurements accurately
  • An interest in science and healthcare
  • Good resource management skills
  • Empathy and compassion to comfort patients in difficult situations.        

Employment Opportunities

As a qualified orthoptist, you can work in the following places;

  • The NHS
  • General hospitals
  • Community health centers
  • Special schools
  • Private clinics

After gaining vast work experience and advanced qualifications, you could work for independent research centers as an eye researcher, or move into teaching in universities that offer orthoptic degrees.

Visit the following website for job opportunities and general reading;

Finally, with the demand for quality healthcare services increasing, the healthcare sector is creating more employment opportunities for healthcare practitioners. Pursuing a degree in orthoptics not only guarantees you a rewarding job, but also offers you the chance to contribute toward a healthier society.


Photo Credits: HSC Public Health Agency