Ophthalmologist Salary: How Much Do Ophthalmologists Make and What It Takes to Get There

Discover the earning potential of ophthalmologists and the steps required to become one.

Posted May 19, 2023

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If you are considering a career in ophthalmology, you may be wondering about the salary you can expect to earn and the educational and training requirements needed to get there. In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about ophthalmologist salaries, including education and training requirements, factors affecting salaries, job growth and outlook, benefits and perks, and much more.

Education and Training Requirements for Ophthalmologists

To become an ophthalmologist, you must first complete the necessary education and training requirements. This includes completing a four-year undergraduate degree in a science-related field and then attending medical school for four years. After completing medical school, you must complete a residency in ophthalmology, which typically lasts three years. Additionally, you may choose to pursue a fellowship in a specialized area of ophthalmology, which can take an additional one to two years.

During your residency in ophthalmology, you will gain hands-on experience in diagnosing and treating eye conditions, performing surgeries, and managing patient care. You will work closely with experienced ophthalmologists and other healthcare professionals to develop your skills and knowledge in the field. After completing your residency and fellowship, you may choose to become board certified in ophthalmology by passing an exam administered by the American Board of Ophthalmology. This certification demonstrates your expertise and commitment to providing high-quality care to your patients.

Factors Affecting Ophthalmologist Salaries

The salary of ophthalmologists is affected by many different factors, including their level of experience, location, and specialty. For example, ophthalmologists who have been in practice for several years tend to earn higher salaries than those who are just starting out. Location also plays a big role in determining salaries, with ophthalmologists in bigger cities typically earning more than those in smaller towns. Finally, your specialty within ophthalmology can also impact your salary, with some specialties such as pediatric ophthalmology or surgical ophthalmology commanding higher salaries.

Another factor that can affect ophthalmologist salaries is the type of employer they work for. Ophthalmologists who work for private practices or hospitals may earn different salaries than those who work for academic institutions or government agencies. Additionally, the demand for ophthalmologists in a particular area can also impact salaries, with areas experiencing a shortage of ophthalmologists often offering higher salaries to attract qualified candidates.

It's also worth noting that ophthalmologists who pursue additional training or certifications may be able to command higher salaries. For example, ophthalmologists who specialize in a particular type of surgery or who are trained in the use of advanced technology may be able to earn more than those who do not have these specialized skills. Overall, there are many different factors that can impact ophthalmologist salaries, and it's important for individuals considering a career in this field to carefully consider these factors when making decisions about their education and career path.

Average Salary of Ophthalmologists in the United States

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for ophthalmologists in the United States as of May 2020 was $285,470 per year. This figure can vary widely depending on factors such as location and experience. Ophthalmologists in the top percentile can earn upwards of $500,000 per year.

It is important to note that the demand for ophthalmologists is expected to increase in the coming years due to an aging population and an increase in chronic eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts. This means that job opportunities for ophthalmologists are likely to grow, which could also impact salary trends in the field.

The Highest Paying States for Ophthalmologists

If you are looking to maximize your earning potential as an ophthalmologist, it is worth considering your location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top paying states for ophthalmologists as of May 2020 were Tennessee, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Alaska, and California. In these states, ophthalmologists earned average salaries of $367,720, $358,080, $354,440, $352,320, and $346,050, respectively.

However, it is important to note that the cost of living in these states may vary greatly. For example, California has a high cost of living, which may offset the higher salary. On the other hand, Tennessee has a lower cost of living, which may make the higher salary more advantageous.

Additionally, it is important to consider the job market in these states. While they may offer higher salaries, they may also have a more competitive job market, making it harder to secure a job as an ophthalmologist. It may be worth researching the demand for ophthalmologists in these states before making a decision on where to practice.

Career Growth and Job Outlook for Ophthalmologists

The job outlook for ophthalmologists is positive, with an expected job growth rate of 4 percent over the next decade. This is in line with the average growth rate for all occupations. Additionally, as the population ages, demand for eye care services is expected to increase, which should further drive demand for ophthalmologists.

Furthermore, ophthalmologists have the potential for significant career growth. With additional training and experience, they can specialize in areas such as pediatric ophthalmology, glaucoma, or retina diseases. This can lead to higher salaries and more job opportunities.

However, it is important to note that becoming an ophthalmologist requires a significant amount of education and training. After completing a bachelor's degree, aspiring ophthalmologists must attend medical school and complete a residency program in ophthalmology. This can take up to 12 years of education and training before becoming a licensed ophthalmologist.

Benefits and Perks of Being an Ophthalmologist

Besides their salaries, ophthalmologists benefit from numerous perks and benefits that come from working in their field. One of the most significant benefits is the ability to help people improve their vision and quality of life. Additionally, ophthalmologists often enjoy flexible schedules, as well as the potential for career advancement through specialization and increased experience. Other benefits may include retirement plans, health insurance, and bonuses or performance-based incentives.

Performance-Based Incentives for Ophthalmologists

Many ophthalmologists are also eligible for performance-based incentives, which are bonuses or other forms of compensation that are tied to their level of performance or productivity. This can include bonuses for meeting certain patient satisfaction or revenue goals, for example. Performance-based incentives can be a great way to boost your earnings as an ophthalmologist, and they are often available to those working in both private and public settings.

Setting Up a Private Practice as an Ophthalmologist

Many ophthalmologists choose to set up their own private practices, which can offer even higher earning potential than working for someone else. However, there are costs and challenges associated with starting your own practice, including finding and leasing office space, purchasing equipment, and building a patient base. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to take on these challenges often find that the rewards are well worth the effort.

The Role of Specializations in Ophthalmology Salaries

As mentioned earlier, specializing in a specific area of ophthalmology can significantly impact your salary. Some of the highest paying specialties within ophthalmology include cornea and refractive surgery, pediatric ophthalmology, and glaucoma. Those who specialize in these areas tend to earn higher salaries than those who work as general ophthalmologists. However, keep in mind that specialized training and education is often required to pursue these specialties.

Gender Pay Gap in the Ophthalmology Industry

Unfortunately, there is a gender pay gap in the ophthalmology industry, with female ophthalmologists earning less than males on average. This gap is likely due to a variety of factors, including discrimination, differences in experience and education, and differences in negotiation skills. If you are a female ophthalmologist, it is important to be aware of this gap and to take steps to negotiate your salary and advocate for yourself in the workplace.

Negotiating Your Salary as an Ophthalmologist

If you are a new or experienced ophthalmologist, negotiating your salary is an important part of the job search process. Be sure to do your research on industry standards and your own qualifications and experience before entering any negotiations. Additionally, be prepared to communicate your worth to potential employers and to negotiate for performance-based incentives or other perks that can boost your earning potential over time.

Top Skills Required to Succeed as an Ophthalmologist

Finally, to succeed as an ophthalmologist, there are several key skills that are necessary for success. These include strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills, excellent communication skills, and physical dexterity for performing delicate procedures. Additionally, business skills may come in handy for those looking to set up their own practices or advance their careers through management positions. Continual learning and education are also crucial to staying up to date on the latest research and technological advancements in the field.

The Importance of Networking for Career Advancement in Ophthalmology

Finally, it is important to remember that networking and developing professional connections is important for career advancement in ophthalmology. Joining professional organizations, attending conferences and events, and taking advantage of mentorship opportunities can all help you expand your network and stay up to date on the latest trends and advancements in the field. By building relationships with other ophthalmologists and healthcare professionals, you can position yourself for long-term success and career growth.


As you can see, there are many factors to consider when it comes to ophthalmologist salaries and career advancement. By completing the necessary education and training, taking advantage of performance-based incentives and other perks, and continuing to learn and develop your skills, you can position yourself for success in this exciting and rewarding field.

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