Orthoptists specialise in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of vision and ocular movement problems.

Orthoptists are key members of the eye care team working in hospitals and clinics. They work with patients of all ages to assess and manage a range of eye problems such as childhood visual problems, reduced and double vision.

Orthoptists investigate, diagnose and treat eyes. They treat vision problems, abnormalities of eye movement or damage to sight caused by illness or accident.

Orthoptists may prescribe exercises, eye patches, glasses or eye surgery as part of the patient’s care plan.

Some of the eye conditions an orthoptist may treat include

  • amblyopia (lazy eye)
  • diplopia (double vision)
  • reduced vision
  • strabismus (squint)

Some eye problems, such as double vision, may be indicators of other health problems in the body. Orthoptists play an important part in spotting these serious conditions and making referrals to other healthcare practitioners.

Orthoptists work in eye hospitals, hospital eye departments or community health centres.

As an orthoptist, you will work with patients of all ages including:

  • assessing the vision of babies and small children including children with special needs
  • treating adults with double vision associated with diabetes, thyroid disorders or multiple sclerosis
  • helping the rehabilitation of patients who have suffered stroke or brain injuries
  • diagnosing and monitoring long term eye conditions such as glaucoma
  • assessing patients before and after surgery for cataracts.

Orthoptsists work independently or in multidisciplinary teams with other eye specialists such as consultant eye surgeons (ophthalmologists), optometrists and nurses treating patients, such as children or stroke patients.

Useful skills include

  • observational skills
  • strong communication skills
  • willing to work alone or in a team
  • patience and empathy
  • commitment to the wellbeing of clients
  • professionalism and an excellent work ethic

Useful abilities include

  • working with people with different lifestyles and backgrounds
  • managing sensitive or challenging situations
  • working accurately with a steady hand

To become an orthoptist, you will need a degree in orthoptics, approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). You will then need to register with the HCPC before you can practice as an orthoptist.

In Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) offers an undergraduate programme in orthoptics. This is a 4-year full-time course and the minimum academic entry requirements include SQA Higher BBBBC including two sciences, Maths and English plus National 5 Physics at B if not taken at Higher. Further information about entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, is available on the GCU website.

To apply for an orthoptic programme you must use the UCAS application process. You can also visit the HCPC website for a full list of approved educational institutions and orthoptics programmes across the UK.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme

You will require a satisfactory (PVG) check to show that you are suitable to work as an orthoptist. This scheme is managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Once qualified, you can join the British and Irish Orthoptists Society (BIOS).

You'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with annual continuing professional development (CPD).

BIOS runs courses, conferences and seminars where orthoptists can exchange ideas and update their skills.

In NHSScotland, with experience, you could become a specialist orthoptist. You could also progress to senior, head and /or consultant orthoptist. As head of an orthoptics service, you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

You might also choose to move into teaching orthoptics or into research.

Find out more information from these professional bodies:

British and Irish Orthoptists Society (BIOS)