Orthoptists diagnose and treat a range of eye conditions affecting both children and adults. They carry out tests to diagnose problems and determine appropriate treatment.

Orthoptists are usually a member of an eye-care team working with patients who typically have amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (squint). They may work with patients who have suffered:

  • brain injury;
  • diabetes;
  • stroke;
  • low vision;
  • glaucoma.

Orthoptists work predominantly in hospitals, but may also work in community healthcare and schools.

They work closely with ophthalmologists and optometrists and contribute to multidisciplinary teams.

Responsibilities

Tasks regularly carried out by an orthoptist include:

  • receiving patient referrals from eye casualty and neurology departments, eye clinics, GPs, health visitors and community clinics;
  • investigating patients clinically to assess their vision, eye position and eye movement, by observation and by the use of specialist equipment;
  • making a diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan, which might involve referral for surgery or the use of more conservative orthoptic treatment, e.g. the use of a patch to treat a lazy eye;
  • giving an explanation and full instructions to patients about the diagnosis and treatment programme suggested;
  • offering continuity of care to patients when possible;
  • working with a variety of patients ranging from babies to the elderly (depending on the setting);
  • undertaking visual field assessments and participating in extended role activities, such as glaucoma monitoring clinics, low vision aid clinics and stroke clinics;
  • working as part of a multidisciplinary team, liaising with occupational therapists, physiotherapists and nursing staff;
  • undertaking general administrative duties relating to patient care;
  • organising supplies for the department;
  • training students on placement and other health professionals, e.g. GPs and optometry students;
  • advising patients with low vision on the use of magnification and other strategies, such as lighting, to maximise their vision;
  • maintaining involvement in departmental research projects, the collection of clinical data for audits and the establishment of relevant protocols;
  • keeping up to date with current practices and recording work activities as part of continuing professional development (CPD).

Salary

  • Salaries for new graduates working in the National Health Service (NHS) start at £21,478. Band 5 on the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
  • More experienced, specialist and advanced orthoptists will be on either Band 6 or Band 7 with salaries ranging from £25,783 to £40,588.
  • Salaries for lead orthoptists range from £30,764 to £81,618 (Band 7 to 8d), depending on the size of the department.

Additional allowances are paid to orthoptists who work in and around London.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Full-time hours are 37.5 hours per week, which may include weekend and evening work.

Part-time work, job shares and career breaks are possible.

What to expect

  • Orthoptists work predominantly in hospital clinics, although many of them visit community clinics and health centres. They also work in primary schools and in schools for children with special needs.
  • Some orthoptists work in private practice, either in addition to an NHS role or full time.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK.
  • Men are currently underrepresented in the profession.
  • There are opportunities to attend national professional development courses, some of which may involve overnight stays.
  • A UK degree in orthoptics is internationally recognised, providing the opportunity to work abroad.

Qualifications

To practise as an orthoptist, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register, you must have successfully completed an HCPC-approved course in orthoptics.

Applications to study orthoptics are made online through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Orthoptics degrees are currently offered at:

  • Glasgow Caledonian University - BSc (Hons) Orthoptics, four years full time;
  • University of Liverpool - BSc (Hons) Orthoptics, three years full time;
  • University of Sheffield - BMed Sci (Hons) Orthoptics, three years full time.

The minimum academic requirement for entry to university is five or six GCSE passes or equivalent, including English language, mathematics and at least one science, and three A-levels (including one in science) at grade B or above. Biology is preferred, but not always essential. Check entry requirements with individual institutions.

The degree programmes are designed to develop professional expertise for clinical practice. They help develop communication, organisation and evaluation skills, essential for work as an orthoptist.

Clinical experience is gained in a range of settings, including hospitals, the community and special schools, as well as at university.

Entry to the profession is not possible without a degree or with a HND only.

There are no postgraduate level pre-registration courses in orthoptics, so graduates with a degree in another subject must complete the full three years of an orthoptics degree. Graduate applicants should have a minimum 2:2 in a science-based subject.

Some graduates may be eligible to apply for Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) and therefore be exempt from some modules. Check with individual course providers for details.

For networking and career development opportunities it may be useful to obtain student membership of the British and Irish Orthoptic Society (BIOS).

Skills

You will need:

  • communication skills and the ability to relate to both children and adults;
  • organisational skills;
  • the ability to empathise and communicate effectively and diplomatically with patients and fellow professionals;
  • the ability to work alone or in a team;
  • patience;
  • self motivation;
  • good observational skills;
  • attention to detail;
  • initiative;
  • adaptability, e.g. to work with different age groups;
  • the capacity to handle emotional situations sensitively.

Work experience

Competition for a place on a university course is fierce. Although work experience is not essential, you should have a good understanding of orthoptics and are advised to observe a state-registered orthoptist before applying to show your interest in, and commitment to, the profession.

If this is not possible, arrange a visit to a clinical department and speak to an orthoptist. Contact the head orthoptist at your local eye hospital to arrange this. Details of this experience should be included in your university application.

Experience of working in a caring environment, either in a paid or voluntary capacity, is also useful. Work with children, people with special needs and the elderly is particularly relevant.

Employers

Orthoptics is a small profession with fewer than 2,000 members in the UK and Ireland.

Most orthoptists work in the ophthalmic departments of hospital trusts of the NHS (see Health Careers), dealing with patients who have been referred by general practitioners (GPs) or local consultants.

Some work in community orthoptic services in settings such as community hospitals, health clinics and GP surgeries.

Some orthoptists are also involved in vision screening to a broad client base, in schools and mobile units.

A small number of orthoptists work in private practice and there are openings in private hospitals and with medical charities. Occasional vacancies may arise in the armed forces.

After further study, orthoptists may take on research or teaching posts in university departments.

Look for job vacancies at:

Hospital orthoptic departments may notify the academic departments at Glasgow Caledonian, Sheffield and Liverpool universities directly of any vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

To practise as an orthoptist, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

It is recommended that you become a member of the British and Irish Orthoptic Society (BIOS) as this provides indemnity insurance, as well as access to continuing professional development (CPD) courses.

You must keep up to date with innovations in practice throughout your career. Ongoing professional development and training for orthoptists includes:

  • the annual BIOS Scientific Conference, which includes lectures, presentations and workshops;
  • regional BIOS meetings and training days;
  • CPD courses and events run for orthoptists at all stages of their career by the University of Liverpool.

Newly qualified orthoptists are mentored by more experienced orthoptists to support their development.

Study leave is sometimes provided for attendance at relevant courses, such as low-vision training or training towards teaching qualifications.

It is also possible to undertake further study at postgraduate level. Opportunities exist to undertake orthoptics-related research at MRes, PhD and Masters level in areas such as:

  • strabismus;
  • binocular vision;
  • amblyopia (lazy eye);
  • visual development.

Career prospects

The majority of orthoptists are employed in the NHS where there is an established career structure enabling practitioners to progress to specialist, then highly specialist, orthoptist. For more information, see Health Careers.

Orthoptists can then progress to senior, head and consultant orthoptist with opportunities to take up a clinical management post. In order to progress up the career ladder in this way you may need to move hospital.

Newly qualified orthoptists start work on Band 5 of the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. From here, it is possible to diversify into other areas or take on a secondment.

After two years' experience, orthoptists can become clinical teachers, teaching students on clinical placements.

Orthoptists can go on to work in postgraduate settings and in clinical research. With appropriate qualifications they may lecture or lead research projects at a university or hospital. Possible research specialisms include:

  • amblyopia (for example, the effectiveness of using a patch for a lazy eye);
  • eye conditions associated with premature birth;
  • eye movement disorders;
  • visual rehabilitation in stroke, brain injury and low vision;
  • neurophysiology of visual perception and binocular vision;
  • methods of assessing vision and how we use it;
  • developmental disorders and their visual associations;
  • the effects of 3D technologies and binocular vision.

Opportunities exist to specialise in various areas of orthoptic care, such as children, stroke, low vision, neurology and special needs, and there are also opportunities to move into hospital-based research posts, combining research with clinical practice.

Qualified orthoptists are eligible to work in Europe and Canada. Some extra qualifications may be required to work in the USA. Check with the International Orthoptic Association (IOA).