A retinal eye surgeon, or retina specialist, is a medical doctor dedicated to the diagnosis and surgical treatment of diseases of the vitreous body of the eye and retina. Retinal surgery is a subspecialty of ophthalmology that requires years of advanced training.
The median salary for a retinal eye surgeon is $272,798.
Retina specialists treat patients of all ages using sophisticated instruments, such as microscopes and lasers, that allow them to perform procedures on the delicate tissue of the eye. Retina specialists treat patients who have experienced eye injuries, as well as those with diseases and conditions such as retinal detachment, diabetic retinopathy, cancer and age-related macular degeneration.
Retina surgery, or vitreoretinal surgery, is a subspecialty of ophthalmology. An ophthalmologist is sometimes referred to as an "eye doctor," but the term is also used to refer to an optometrist. It's important not to confuse them, as they have different training, licensure and scope of practice. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has earned either an M.D. or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) and has undergone further specialty training. An optometrist is similar to a primary care physician, trained to make assessments of eye health and refer to specialists as needed. An optometrist earns a doctorate through a four-year program at an accredited school of optometry and is awarded the credential of Doctor of Optometry (O.D.). Optometrists cannot perform surgery.
Becoming a vitreoretinal surgeon requires years of intense study. The first step is earning a medical degree from an accredited medical school. Admissions to medical school are competitive. Although there are few formal entrance requirements, successful applicants hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree with a solid background in life sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics and psychology. They must demonstrate their academic proficiency by taking the Medical School Admissions Test (MCAT). Most schools look for candidates with an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.6 and an MCAT score of 510 or higher out of a possible 528.
Medical school takes four years. In the first two years, students participate in lecture and laboratory courses in advanced life sciences, pharmacology, medical ethics and introductory clinical practice. In the last two years, they complete supervised clinical rotations that give them knowledge and skills in various areas of medicine. The clinical rotations also help students choose their future specialties. Medical students must pass a proficiency exam after the second year of training. They must also pass an exam upon graduation to be licensed.
All new doctors must undertake residency training. The length of a residency varies according to the specialty. Becoming a retinal eye surgeon requires a four-year residency in ophthalmology, which is the diagnosis and treatment of all conditions and diseases of the eye. There are subspecialties of ophthalmology, of which retinal surgery is one. After the residency, one or two more years of in-depth training, called a fellowship, is necessary.
Retina specialists work in office settings, hospitals and clinics. They typically work with ophthalmologists, anesthesiologists and physicians with other medical specialties, as well as with nurses, lab technicians and members of a patient's health care team. Some retina specialists work in laboratories, researching diseases of the eye.
Salary and Job Outlook
Eye doctor salary varies according to training and credentials. Newly trained retina specialists typically receive starting salaries between $175,000 and $350,000, depending on geographic location and employer. A specialist working for a retina-only group practice typically earns a higher salary than a solo practitioner or one working for a general ophthalmology practice. The median retina surgeon annual salary is $292,798; half of the doctors in the specialty earn more while half earn less.
Job Growth Trend
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics makes projections for physicians and surgeons as a category and does not distinguish among specialty and subspecialty practice. Job growth for medical doctors is expected to be 13 percent through 2026, which is faster than average compared to all other jobs. Population increases, in addition to the aging of the baby-boomer generation and subsequent increases in age-related eye conditions, suggest the outlook for retina specialists will continue to be strong.