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Why Ophthalmology?

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Trying to figure out what kind of doctor you should become? Wondering what specialty you should choose? Then SheMD's Why Specialty Series is perfect for you! We're bringing you female physicians sharing WHY they chose their specialty. Today's post is on why Dr. Early chose the field of Ophthalmology and why Ophthalmology is a great field for all.

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Being a cataract surgeon and comprehensive ophthalmologist is the BEST job in medicine! Not only do I get to restore my patients’ vision with a quick, 15 minute cataract surgery, but I also get to continue caring for them at their annual exams for the rest of their lives.

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a surgeon, but once I realized how much I loved working with my hands I explored a number of surgical specialties. Ophthalmology really spoke to me as a perfect blend of surgery and long-term continuity with patients.

In my first ophthalmology rotation, one thing that really stood out to me was that every attending was really excited to have me, and really encouraged me to pursue the field. Most of them even said, “I love my job!” – which is definitely not something you hear on every rotation!

Ophthalmology is a niche specialty that doesn’t often make it into core rotations in medical school. Typically students have to seek out their own rotation and research opportunities, and it’s even a little more challenging because we have an early match (January) instead of the common match in March. If you like aspects of surgery, neurology, and medicine; ophthalmology might be a great fit for you!

Training is relatively short compared to some surgical specialties. Ophthalmology residency is 1+3, meaning one year internship plus three years of dedicated ophthalmologic training. Some residency programs integrate the internship with the other three years, while others do not. Fellowship training (additional 1-2 years) is available in cornea, glaucoma, retina, uveitis, oculoplastics, pediatrics, ocular oncology, ocular pathology, and a few other more specific disciplines such as refractive surgery or complex cataract surgery.

Here are the top 5 reasons I love what I do:

  1. Hands-on. In addition to micro-surgery on the delicate human eye, there are many in-office procedures and lasers that keep things interesting.

  2. See the disease. The physical examination might be more important in ophthalmology than almost any other specialty. We can physically SEE disease processes, from inflammatory cells to red blood cells, detached retinas, even systemic disease processes like lymphoma or sarcoidosis can present with ocular findings.

  3. High tech. There are constantly new devices and drug delivery mechanisms in development, as well as a whole battery of diagnostic testing equipment in the office. If you like gadgets and technology, ophthalmology is a great field to be in!

  4. Intricate. The eye is an elegant and complex system with so many fascinating functions, far beyond what you learn in medical school! You can subspecialize by completing fellowship training in treating diseases of almost any intraocular structure.

  5. Problem solving. If you are solution-oriented and like to solve problems, eye surgery is a great way to have an objective outcome and resolution to visual complaints like blurry vision from cataracts! It is amazing to be able to restore a patient’s independence by improving their vision.

I am so happy with the career path I chose and love that I see something different every single day. It has been a really good fit for me as a mom to two young children, with a pretty predictable schedule Monday through Friday, and weekend call only about every other month at my practice. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the path to ophthalmology!

You can find me on Instagram at @dr.alisonearly or by email at

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