Ophthalmologists or eye specialists, are physicians who diagnose and treat diseases of the eye, including glaucoma and cataracts, as well as vision problems such as near-sightedness, and eye injuries.

Most ophthalmologists practice a combination of medicine and surgery, ranging from lens prescription and standard medical treatment to the most delicate and precise surgical manipulations.

They perform comprehensive examinations of the visual system to determine the nature or extent of ocular disorders, perform, order or interpret the results of diagnostic or clinical tests, and document or evaluate patients' medical histories.  They can prescribe or administer topical or systemic medications to treat ophthalmic conditions or to manage pain.  They may perform ophthalmic surgeries such as cataract, glaucoma, refractive, corneal, vitro-retinal and eye muscle surgeries.  Laser surgeries can alter, remove, reshape or replace ocular tissue.  After surgery, they provide or direct the provision of postoperative care.  They prescribe ophthalmologic treatments or therapies such as chemotherapy, cryotherapy and low vision therapy and prescribe contact lenses and lenses for eyeglasses. Sometimes they recommend eye exercises.

As a result of a number of recent scientific and technological advances, ophthalmology offers possibilities for diagnostic and therapeutic precision that are unavailable in many other medical and surgical fields. These advances have resulted in the development of a number of subspecialties, and provide the ophthalmologist with a wide range of clinical and research opportunities. Areas of specialisation in this field include corneal problems, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, ophthalmic pathology, paediatric ophthalmology and vitreoretinal diseases.

Optometrists and family doctors often refer patients with serious eye conditions to ophthalmologists. Because of their extensive training, ophthalmologists can often link eye problems to other disorders because of the fact that many systemic diseases, such as brain tumours, diabetes and multiple sclerosis have ocular manifestations, that is, symptoms that can be detected in the eye.

Ophthalmologists use a variety of instruments, including ophthalmoscopes, which enable them to see the inner part of the eye. Because the eye is so small, ophthalmologists usually operate with the aid of microscopes and magnifying lenses to enable them to do their work with great precision.

Most ophthalmologists work in private practice, in their offices and in operating rooms. Emergencies are rare, so ophthalmologists work more regular hours than general medical practitioners. Ophthalmologists are required to keep abreast of new developments in their field so they often have to spend time studying, doing research and attending seminars.

Personal Requirements

  • compassionate and understanding
  • enjoy doing precision work with your hands
  • have a desire to help others
  • good hand-eye coordination
  • tactful and disciplined
  • good depth perception
  • excellent coordination

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course.

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Note: Competition to enter medical studies is stiff and there are usually many applicants with excellent grades who naturally would be given preference.

What to Study

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Internship: 2 years 
  • Community Service: 1 year at an approved medical faculty.

Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Registration as an Independent Medical Practitioner with the HPCSA will only be permitted once all the necessary criteria have been met.

Specialisation in Ophthalmology

To specialise in this area, a number of years of post-graduate study will be required.

Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to this area of specialization. This information can be found in the various sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) professionals.
Refer to the medical faculty of the relevant university for additional information regarding application criteria.



  • schools of optometry at universities
  • general and private hospitals
  • eye clinics
  • private practice

Further Information

Ophthalmology Society of South Africa (OSSA)
P O Box 56184
Arcadia, 0007
Tel and Fax: (012) 343-8918

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9301 Fax: (012) 328-5120
E-mail: hpcsa@hpcsa.co.za

Getting Started

  • do volunteer or part-time work at local hospitals
  • complete a first aid course
  • read as much as possible about diseases of the eye

Programmes by Study Institutions

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