Becoming an Ophthalmic Scientist: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an ophthalmic scientist career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an ophthalmic scientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Ophthalmic Scientist

An ophthalmic scientist performs research on eye disorders and diseases and how they affect vision. Use the following the table to compare the pros and cons of becoming an ophthalmic scientist.

Pros of an Ophthalmic Scientist Career
Average employment growth rate expected for medical scientists (13% employment increase for 2012-2022)*
Higher than average salary potential ($90,160 in 2014)*
Position offers the opportunity to help patients improve their health*
Variety of work settings (federal government, universities, private industries)*

Cons of an Ophthalmic Scientist Career
Extensive schooling is required*
May work with hazardous materials or samples*
May need to compete with other professionals for federal funding of research *
Must obtain licensure if performing clinical duties*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As an ophthalmic scientist, you may find yourself working in laboratories, universities or offices. You can expect to perform research and clinical investigations, analyze data and write technical papers. Your research findings may be applied to the development of new drugs or procedures. You may work with medical doctors, and you may manage technicians who perform support tasks.

Salary Info and Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't collect data specifically for ophthalmic scientists, but it does provide occupational information for medical scientists. According to the BLS, a 13% increase in employment is expected for medical scientists between 2012 and 2022. As the pharmaceutical and biomedical fields continue growing, private industry is likely to see the most growth among these professionals, reported the BLS.

In May 2014, the BLS reported that medical scientists earned an average salary of about $90,160. That same year, the highest salaries were earned by medical scientists who worked in physicians' offices; federal government agencies; and management, scientific and technical consulting service industries. The scientific research and development services industries employed the highest number of medical scientists, according to the BLS in 2011.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

Medical scientists, including ophthalmic scientists, need a doctoral degree. You can begin your education by earning a bachelor's degree - usually in biological science or a related field that provides a solid foundation in chemistry, biology and other life sciences. After obtaining your master's degree, you can go on to pursue a doctoral program in biological sciences with a concentration related to ophthalmology. Other fields, such as neuroscience, may also prepare you for an ophthalmic scientist career.

You may also opt to enroll in a joint Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)/Doctor of Medicine (MD) program to develop clinical and research skills. Expect to face competitive admission requirements. You'll need a high score on the Medical College Admissions Test. During your residency training, you can specialize in an ophthalmic-related field. You can usually complete a doctoral program in about 6 years, while a joint degree program takes 7-8 years.

Licensing Information

The BLS states that certain conditions might require you to obtain a medical license. For example, if you administer medication or gene therapy, you need to be a licensed medical doctor. Licensing requirements include earning a medical degree, passing exams and completing residency training.

What Employers Are Looking For

Ophthalmic scientists need to be critical thinkers with excellent observation skills in order to precisely analyze and solve various issues. As an ophthalmic scientist, you also need good communication skills so you can clearly explain investigation results and write grant proposals to help fund your research. The following job postings from March and June 2012 provide examples of what employers are looking for:

  • A university in Florida sought an assistant scientist with a doctorate in neuroscience, neural physiology or a related field to conduct lab research projects using nanotechnology and cellular theories regarding retinal and optic nerve degenerative diseases.
  • A university in Illinois wanted a research or clinical scientist with a doctorate, MD license, and a successful track record of obtaining grant funding to add to their research faculty.
  • A California university looked for a recent ophthalmology, biology, pathology or neuroscience graduate with a doctorate, MD, or both to contribute original research.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

While earning your doctoral degree, look for schools with ophthalmology departments that offer a variety of research projects that you can collaborate on. Additionally, look for ways to improve your grant writing skills, since this skill is crucial to securing federal funds for research. The National Institute of Health's website provides various resources, as do many postsecondary schools. Some schools offer professional assistance through campus writing centers.

Other Careers to Consider

Physician

If you would prefer to work in the clinical aspect of the ophthalmology field, consider becoming a physician. Your education requirements are similar to earning a joint PhD/MD degree, which includes four years of medical school and spending 3-8 years in a residency program. You can choose to specialize in ophthalmology during your residency. Licensure is required before you can begin practicing medicine independently.

The BLS projected a faster-than-average employment growth rate of 24% for physicians from 2010-2020, and the average salary was about $185,000 for these professionals, as of 2011. However, as a physician, you can expect to work long, variable hours that include being on-call and responding to emergencies.

Optometrist

Another alternative is to become an optometrist. Patients visit these professionals to have their vision checked and to check for other eye disorders. You must complete a 4-year Doctor of Optometry program and complete a 1-year residency in a specialty area, such as primary eye care or geriatric eye care. A state license is also required to practice optometry.

The BLS estimated a rapid 33% employment growth rate for optometrists between 2010 and 2020. It reported that 22% of these professionals were self-employed in 2010. In 2011, the BLS also reported that the average salary for optometrists was about $108,000. Many optometrists work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' schedules.

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