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Become an orthoptist

Read on to discover more details on pursuing a career in orthoptics; admittance requirements, subjects covered and the location of accredited training programs

An orthoptist is an allied healthcare professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders related to eye movements, binocular vision, and visual function. They work with patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. They assess, diagnose and manage conditions that affect visual development and binocular function such as eye misalignment, eye movement control, amblyopia, and more.  They function under the direction of a supervising physician as the mid-level provider and are primarily found in a pediatric and neuro-ophthalmology clinic. Orthoptists’ educational background is extensive, and therefore they have high levels of clinical responsibility and complex diagnostic and therapeutic skills. They play a pivotal role in educating patients and their family about their visual condition, treatment options, and how to manage their condition on a day-to-day basis.

How do I Become an Orthoptist?

Complete a two-year intensive program in orthoptics. A link to a list of accredited orthoptic programs in the USA can be found at the top of this page. Once you have completed your orthoptic degree program, you will take a board certification exam given by the American Orthoptic Council® (AOC®) to become a Certified Orthoptist®. The board exam consists of a written test and a practical exam. After becoming certified, you will need to maintain your certification by participating in continuing education activities.

How do I apply to an Orthoptic Fellowship Program?

To be eligible for a degree program in orthoptics, you will need to have a Bachelor’s degree. Admission into an Orthoptic Fellowship program varies between programs. There are no required courses mandated by the certifying body, but individual orthoptic programs may have their own pre-requisite requirements or recommendations.  

What is the Program Like?

An orthoptic program consists of both didactics and clinical training. The academic portion of the program consists of a sequence of courses vital to the understanding of the visual system and take place online and in-person with certified orthoptists. The clinical training involves working with patients of all ages under the supervision of a certified orthoptist or an ophthalmologist.  Students interact with medical students, ophthalmology residents, fellows and medical professionals in a clinic setting.

What Kind of Courses Will I Take in the Program?

Anatomy: A thorough investigation of the structures of the human visual system with concentration on the anatomy of the eye and surrounding structures. A basic knowledge of human anatomy is recommended.

Neuro-Anatomy: A basic introduction to the central and peripheral nervous systems and to the parts of the brain which are essential to vision and eye movements.

Physiology: A thorough understanding of the normal functioning of organ systems and organs with emphasis on the eye. 

Pharmacology: The study of diagnostic and therapeutic drugs used in ophthalmology. The properties and reactions of specific agents is studied as well as the proper clinical indications for the prescription of specific ophthalmic drugs.

Diagnostic Testing & Measurement: An introduction to the clinical techniques necessary for an orthoptist to perform a diagnostic examination. The application and interpretation of specific testing procedures is covered in-depth throughout the course of study.

Systemic Diseases & Ocular Motor Disorders: Visual symptoms are often the presenting sign of a serious systemic illness. The pathogenesis, signs and symptoms of various disease processes are discussed. A systematic overview of the visual disorders encountered by the orthoptist is provided. Principles of Surgery: Introduces the student to the essentials of pre and postoperative patient care. Provides an overview of the indications for surgery and the types of surgery performed by an ophthalmologist to correct eye alignment and eye movement disorders.

Basic Ophthalmic Exam Techniques: Orthoptic programs provide instruction in the principles of ophthalmic technical procedures such as refractometry, visual field testing, and contact lens fitting which are useful adjuncts to the specialized skills of an orthoptist. Some programs offer clinical proficiency in these technical skills while others focus primarily on theoretical concepts. Ophthalmic Optics: Examines basic principles from the genesis and propagation of light to the laws of applied optics relative to ophthalmic lenses and prisms. A basic knowledge of algebra and physics is recommended.

Orthoptic Treatment: An introduction to the various forms of non-surgical treatment encompassing theoretic principles and clinical application.

Additional subject areas may include:

Principles of Genetics Child Development Learning Disabilities Clinical Research Methods Medical Writing

Is the Graduate Record Examination required?

No, the Graduate Record Examination is not required.

Do I qualify for advanced standing?

Advanced standing may be awarded to ophthalmic medical personnel who possess an undergraduate degree and a current COT or COMT certification.  Advance standing eligibility is determined by the program director upon a candidate’s acceptance into their program. More information on advance standing here.

How long is the training program?

It is a 24-month program unless you are an advanced standing student. Advanced standing students must complete a minimum of 12 months in an accredited program. The exact length of training for an advanced standing student will be determined by the program director based on the student’s progress, their fulfillment of the program’s requisites and if they are deemed ready to sit for the AOC certifying exams.

I am an internationally trained orthoptist; do I still need to attend an accredited training program to become certified in the USA?

The answer depends on which country you trained in and what certification you currently hold. You can find more information here or to find out if you need to attend an accredited training program to become certified int he USA, contact the American Orthoptic Council by emailing them at

What is the cost of tuition to attend an orthoptic fellowship program?

Tuition for the two year post graduate programs usually do not exceed $5000 per year but are not regulated by the American Orthoptic Council and each program sets its own tuition. Some programs include books and other teaching materials in the tuition fee. Financial aid and stipends are available at some programs. Inquiries should be made individually to the programs of interest.

Orthoptic students do not usually qualify for conventional student loans, as the programs are not University degree granting programs. Partial scholarships based on need and merit are available from the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology Education and Research Foundation (JCAHPO) and the Foundation for Orthoptic Research and Education in the Americas (FOREA).

When are the applications due?

Deadlines for completed applications are dictated by the individual school and although most programs start students in July some stagger their starting dates. Space is limited as many programs only accept one student per year.

When does the program start?

Most programs start in July, but some can start as late as September 1.


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