After completing an ophthalmology residency, many ophthalmologists enter the work force, but there are also many that continue to hone their skills and knowledge through training in an ophthalmology fellowship. Ophthalmology fellowships are 1 to 2 year paid training positions, focusing on one of the many subspecialties in the field. Because of the limited positions they are really competitive to be accepted into. Ophthalmology fellowship stipends do not reflect what they will make on their own, and are generally base pay, but often do come with insurance and other benefits.
During an ophthalmology fellowship, the fellow receives detailed training in the specific subspecialty under faculty supervision, plus they will also lead and train other residents. For example, a fellow in a pediatric ophthalmology may experience several cases of neonatal care, retinal or corneal surgery, reconstructive surgery, and other issues. Many fellowships also require completion of a research project that may be presented locally, or at a regional or national conference or meeting.
The major benefit of ophthalmology fellowship is the extra training and specialization in a subspecialty, but there are also many other benefits such as career advancement and how the fellowship can open many doors in the future. Fellows can network with other professionals in ophthalmology, many holding high regarded positions. Many jobs seek ophthalmologists that are fellowship trained. Fellows can also go into research and writing of papers and clinical findings. Once they are done with their ophthalmology fellowship, candidates have a great addition to their resume, and many advance to higher positions as hospital administrators, hold top jobs such as a director in a major organization, or have highly regarded teaching positions. Just taking a quick glance at some of the top board of directors and executives of many ophthalmology organizations will yield ophthalmologists who have finished one or more fellowships.
Ophthalmology Fellowship Subspecialty and Settings
There is currently no official accreditation organization for ophthalmology fellowships, but the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology Fellowship Compliance Committee, AUPO FCC, does offer voluntary compliance of several subspecialties. The organization currently reviews participating fellowships in pediatric ophthalmology, cornea and external disease refractive surgery, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, ophthalmic pathology, retina and vitreous surgery, and uveitis. There are other categories for ophthalmology subspecialties including oculo-plastic surgery, medical retina, and those listed under miscellaneous.
Each subspecialty fellowship offers cases that require specific knowledge for diagnosis and treatment, from medication to surgical. Fellows in a cornea and external disease refractive surgery fellowship will gain knowledge on cornea diseases including diagnosis and surgical treatment. Plus they will learn about laser and intraocular lens refractive surgeries, and will be able to perform more surgical procedures. Those in a glaucoma fellowship will learn current methods of diagnosis and medical and surgical treatments that are not taught in any classroom setting. Each ophthalmology fellowship should provide similar experience through the handling of patients, training by experienced staff and research.
The settings for fellowships are generally the same one as those for residencies, and include hospitals, clinics, university ophthalmology departments, and other medical facilities. There are also some private practices or medical groups that offer fellowships because of the extra experience fellows have already gained from a residency.
Applying for Ophthalmology Fellowships
There are two main ways in applying for an ophthalmology fellowship; one being directly to the facility and the other is through the Ophthalmology Fellowship Match (OFMP) program at San Francisco matching service. Most fellowships participate in the Ophthalmology Fellowship Match program because it is a centralized place for applicants and programs, and takes away many of the problems and hassles that come with applying to each school separately. Some ophthalmology fellowships may not participate, while some organizations may not add all their fellowship vacancies through the service. Applying for these requires a direct approach.
All ophthalmology fellowships have their own specific requirements, but those that participate in the OFMP go through the Central Application Service (CAS). CAS takes one application and supporting document submission and sends it out to the applicant’s fellowship selections. The CAS requires an application, a fellowship distribution list, and 3 letters of reference, with one from a Chair and the other from a sub-specialist. Applicants may also need to meet the specific programs requirements, which can include completion of a 3 year residency program, passing of all the USLME sections, permanent residency, and holding a current medical license. Applicants should submit their applications and materials early in order to meet the individual deadlines for each program.