Orthoptist

Orthoptists care for people of all ages. They assess, diagnose and treat a range of eye problems, such as reduced vision, double vision and childhood vision problems.

To work in the NHS, orthoptists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Career story

Watch our video where Jane tells us about the different treatments orthoptists use to treat patients with vision problems or eye movement disorders.

My name is Jane and I’m an orthoptist. An orthoptist is a health professional dealing with vision problems, eye movement disorders and mainly squints.

I work in the main hospitals within the area, in outpatient departments. I also work in community hospitals, nurseries, primary schools, special schools and on occasions, home visits.

Orthoptists can also do low vision clinics, where we hand out magnifiers to children or adults with visual impairments. Injections, which can be for the treatment for macular degeneration. Stroke rehab work, and Botox injections for the treatments of squints.

We can make a huge difference to children’s vision in the long-term. Vision that’s not picked up in children before the age of 7 or 8 can be untreated and therefore can’t be reversed when they’re older.

We do pre-school vision screening, which is called ‘See for School’, and children with reduced vision can be picked up and given glasses, patching treatment, whatever they require.

I love it when we find a child at screening who has reduced vision and nobody actually knew, and then we give them the treatment of glasses or patching and they respond really well, and then we’re able to discharge them, and the parents are really happy, and the patient’s happy. It’s just a nice treatment journey.

You need to have a lot of energy because you’re working with children, and a good sense of humour, and be a good team player.

For the patients that require help, it is life-changing. An adult who has a stroke, for example, could end up with double vision, which is a huge blow to their life, with many other complexities as well. We could visit them on the ward, fit a prism to their glasses, or give them glasses, help restore that vision back to one, and really just help put the pieces of their life back together again.


Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as an orthoptist, useful subjects include:

  • Human Biology
  • Physics
  • Maths
  • English
  • Administration and IT

A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, taken in S5 or S6, could help you gain new skills and valuable work experience.

Find out more about apprenticeships at apprenticeships.scot.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do an HNC in Care and Administrative Practice or an HNC in Applied Science.

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

In Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian University offers a four-year pre-registration undergraduate programme in Orthoptics, approved by the HCPC.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

As an orthoptist, you would investigate, diagnose and treat vision problems, abnormalities of eye movement or damage to sight caused by illness or accident.

Some common eye conditions include:

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

You could prescribe exercises, eye patches, glasses or recommend eye surgery as part of a patient’s care plan.

Eye problems, such as double vision, may be indicators of other health problems in the body. You would play an important part in spotting these serious conditions and making referrals to other healthcare professionals.

What you’ll do

Some of the typical tasks of an orthoptist include:

  • 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 a stroke or brain injuries
  • diagnosing and monitoring long term eye conditions such as glaucoma
  • assessing patients before and after surgery for cataracts

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • communicating with people
  • problem-solving skills
  • working in a team
  • working accurately
  • helping people

Who you’ll work with

Orthoptists work independently or in multidisciplinary teams with other eye specialists including:

  • ophthalmologists (eye surgeons)
  • optometrists
  • nurses
  • healthcare support workers

Working environment

You could work in:

  • eye hospitals
  • hospital eye departments
  • health centres
  • a person’s home

Useful information

To work as an orthoptist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

There are around 1,500 registered orthoptists in the UK and more than 100 working in the NHS in Scotland.

Learning and development

The professional body for orthoptists in the UK is the British and Irish Orthoptists Society (BIOS). You can become a member once you’ve qualified as an orthoptist.

During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development (CPD). The BIOS provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

Career progression

With training and experience, you could become a specialist orthoptist. You could also progress to advanced or consultant orthoptist roles. As head of an orthoptics service, you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

There are also teaching and research opportunities.