Orthoptists specialise in diagnosing and managing eye conditions, in a wide age range of patients, that largely affect eye movements, visual development or the way the eyes work together.
Orthoptists see patients with a wide range of conditions affecting their vision. Patients may be directly experiencing symptoms such as blurred, oscillating or double vision, or they may exhibit outward signs, such as misalignment or uncontrolled movement of the eyes or abnormal head positions.
They are trained to offer a range of treatments in the management or correction of these conditions. This may include eye patches, eye exercises, prisms or glasses
As an orthoptist, you’ll diagnose and treat eye movement disorders, as well as visual impairments related to the way the eyes interact with the brain. This means you’ll also spot serious neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Collaborating with a team of eye specialists, you’ll be with patients every day, directly seeing the change in their quality of life when you treat their double vision or manage their squint. Your role could involve assessing the vision of babies or helping patients who have suffered a stroke. You’ll also have the opportunity to work in a variety of places, from hospitals to schools.
What are the pay and conditions like?
Your standard working week will be around 37.5 hours and may include evenings and weekends. As an orthoptist, you’ll be paid on the Agenda for Change (AFC) pay system, typically starting on band 5.
You will be able to claim £2,000 a year towards childcare costs through the NHS Learning Support Fund, and there’s funding available for adult dependants and some placement travel costs too. If you have a disability, there are grants to help with essential costs via the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
You'll also have access to one of the best pension schemes in the UK, as well as exclusive health service discounts and benefits at some of the most popular brands.
Where you could be working?
Orthoptists work in a range of settings including:
NHS or private hospital
Community health centres
What are your career development opportunities?
You’ll receive an annual personal development review to ensure you’re making the most of every opportunity offered. And with continuous professional development, you can add to your skills and progress to specialist roles with a higher pay grade.
You’ll also be encouraged to join the British and Irish Orthoptic Society (BIOS) where you’ll be able to continually update your skills and training.
Working for the NHS, you could become a specialist orthoptist and, later, a senior or head orthoptist. As a head of orthoptic service, you’d be responsible for a team and manage budgets.
Teaching and research are other career options, as well as working in a private practice.
Don’t forget – academic qualifications aren't everything. As an orthoptist, you’ll need to feel comfortable working with adults and children and have great communication skills to explain different conditions and treatments to your patients.
Are you a patient person?
You need extreme levels of patience and tolerance because you're working with young children and sometimes with the elderly. Both extremes require a great deal of patience, understanding, sympathy, and empathy.
Do you possess manual dexterity?
As an orthoptist, you need to have very acute skills of dexterity and observation because you're looking for the minutest of detail in a tiny, tiny little organ of the body – the eyes.
Do you have good organisation skills?
You’ll also need to be organised, have good decision-making skills, and attention for details.
Are you interested in science?
As an orthoptist, you should understand the structure and function of the human body, together with knowledge of health, disease, disorder, and dysfunction. You should understand the human anatomy and physiology, including the central nervous system, brain and ocular structures, as it relates to the practice of orthoptics.
Do you have analytical skills?
As an orthoptist, you will have to judge a range of specialist optometrical problems which require investigation, analysis, and assessment – e.g. refraction of infants, glaucoma.
To become an orthoptist, you must first successfully complete an approved degree in orthoptics from one of the three universities in the UK which offer the course. The course takes three to four years and involves a lot of practical work with patients, as well as theoretical knowledge.
Entry requirements for an undergraduate degree include:
two or three A levels, including a science
five GCSEs (grades A – C), including English language, maths, and science
Or the equivalent qualifications:
a BTEC, HND or HNC, including science
a relevant NVQ
a science-based Access course
equivalent Scottish or Irish qualifications
Each university sets its own entry requirements, so it’s important to check with them directly. Wherever you study, you’ll need to show that you have a good understanding of orthoptics. It is also a good idea to spend some time with a registered orthoptist to get some firsthand experience of what the role’s really like.
A degree apprenticeship with a healthcare provider is another way to become an orthoptist.
Apprenticeships give you the chance to earn a living while gaining your qualification. Your employer and the government will pay the tuition fees, so apprenticeships aren’t eligible for student grants.
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