The Job and What's Involved

Orthoptists are eye specialists. They investigate, diagnose and treat eye movement problems.

Orthoptists work with patients of all ages. They have a special expertise in working with the groups of people who are most likely to have eye disorders such as very young children, elderly people and people with special needs.

The work is highly skilled. A slight defect in childhood can become a major visual disability unless it is dealt with quickly. Accurate diagnosis and treatment can be critical to patients' sight in the future, and to their ability to lead full lives.

An orthoptist's tasks typically include:

  • Screening children aged four and five, to check for any defects in vision or eye movements.
  • Examining elderly patients to detect and treat the consequences (for vision and eye movement) of strokes.
  • Investigating the eye movements and vision of people with conditions such as head injuries or brain tumours.
  • Contributing to clinics for adults with conditions such as glaucoma, a common disease affecting the eye.
  • Carrying out tests to assess the nature of an eye problem.
  • Choosing and overseeing the best treatment, sometimes over several years.
  • Writing up diagnoses and progress reports.
  • Taking part in clinical research.

Conditions frequently treated by orthoptists are:

- 'Lazy eye'
- Squints
- Double vision
- Abnormal eye movements, triggered by injury or disease
- Defects of co-ordination
- Reading problems

Common treatments include patches, lenses, contact lenses, eye exercises and fitting prisms over spectacles.

Orthoptists use a variety of specialised equipment, for example, to measure the pressure inside the eye, or to monitor messages being sent between the brain and the eye.

While treating patients, orthoptists may need to discuss their care with fellow eye specialists - ophthalmologists and optometrists. They also work closely with other professionals within the NHS, education, social services and the voluntary sector.

Orthoptists typically work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time hours, flexible working and job share opportunities may be available.

Many orthoptists are based in hospitals. Others work in the community, providing screening services in schools, mobile units and health clinics.

The work may include some travel.

Newly qualified orthoptists can earn between £20,700 and £26,800 a year. Specialist and advanced practitioners can earn between £25,000 and £39,300 and a Head of service can earn up to £65,600.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are currently about 1,100 practicing orthoptists in the UK. There is keen competition for training places but, after graduation, prospects are good as there is a significant shortage of orthoptists.

Orthoptists are employed by the NHS in all parts of the country. Some work in private hospitals and universities.

Vacancies may be advertised in Parallel Vision, a journal published by the British and Irish Orthoptic Society. They may also be advertised on www.jobs.nhs.uk as well as on the websites of individual NHS trusts.

Education and Training

To qualify as an orthoptist, students must complete a three-year degree course. Entry requirements are generally a minimum of five GCSE passes (A*-C) or equivalent, including English language, mathematics and at least one science, plus three BBB A level passes. Biology at A level may also be required.

Alternative qualifications, such as a BTEC National Diploma in science or health studies, or an International Baccalaureate, may be accepted. Entry is also possible through validated Access courses or Open University courses in science subjects. The Diploma in society, health and development may be relevant for this type of work. Check details of entry requirements with universities.

Each year there are many more applicants for the qualifying degree course than university places. Candidates are advised to visit an orthoptic department. As well as offering an insight into the work, this will demonstrate commitment and understanding of the profession.

The University of Liverpool runs a one-year Foundation to Health Studies Programme, open to applicants aged 18 or over with five GCSE's (A*-C) including English and maths. The programme has flexible entry requirements and applicants are considered on an individual basis. Students who successfully complete the programme at a given standard can progress to the orthoptics degree course.

Experience of working with the public, children, the elderly or people with special needs may be useful.

To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau. Applicants for entry to degree courses in orthoptics must undergo these checks.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

During the three-year degree programme, students spend a minimum of 30 weeks on clinical placements in hospitals, the community and special schools. The academic year is extended to 42 weeks to allow time for this.

Orthoptists must register with the Health Professions Council, and renew their registration every two years. They are required, as a condition of renewed registration, to engage in continuing professional development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An orthoptist should:

  • Be a good communicator, who gets on well with children and adults.
  • Have an aptitude for science and have analytical skills.
  • Be observant.
  • Possess manual dexterity.
  • Have numerical skills, with the ability to take accurate measurements.
  • Be patient, especially when encouraging patients to co-operate with tests and treatment.
  • Be capable of working alone or as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects are good within the NHS, and promotion can lead to a post as senior, head or consultant orthoptist. However, it may be necessary to move to a different part of the country to take full advantage of promotion opportunities.

There are opportunities to study for a higher degree, leading to work in university teaching or research. It may also be possible to move into general management within the NHS.

As the British qualification in orthoptics is respected throughout the world, there may be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

Health Professions Council (HPC),
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Website: www.hpc-uk.org

NHS Careers,
PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

The University of Liverpool,
Senate House, Abercrombie Square,
Liverpool, L69 3BX
Tel: 0151 794 2000
Website: www.liv.ac.uk

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