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What is an Orthoptist?

What is an Orthoptist?
Photo: What is an Orthoptist?
An orthoptist is an Allied Health professional who is an eye care specialist.  Orthoptists work with ophthalmologists and may assess and test the vision of the ophthalmologist’s patients.

An orthoptist also diagnoses eye movement disorders and vision problems.  They may recommend eye exercises for certain conditions, prescribe glasses or occlusion therapy.  They can also recommend the appropriate surgical procedure if required, but don’t perform surgery themselves although they can also assist with minor surgical procedures, such as removing cysts from the eyelid and tear duct probing.

Orthoptists can test a patient’s vision to check for eye disease such as glaucoma or other medical conditions that present in the eyes such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis.  They can also test for aged related macular degeneration and perform cataract assessment and the corresponding management of same.
Orthoptists may also help with screening the vision of children in schools and help in the rehabilitation of patients after a stroke or injury to the head.

The difference between an orthoptist and an optometrist is that an orthoptist specialises in the evaluation and nonsurgical treatment of visual disorders caused by imbalance of the eye muscles, such as strabismus (crossed eye or squint) and Amblyopia (lazy eye). An Optometrist is a person who is professionally trained and licensed to examine the eyes for visual defects, diagnose problems or impairments, and prescribe corrective lenses or provide other types of treatment.

Strabismus develops in both children and adults.  If left untreated, it can cause acute or even permanent loss of vision.

Amblyopia is a condition that affects children, usually in the first eight years of development.  A lazy eye results in a decrease of vision.  It is turned outwards and can be very noticeable to other people.  It can occur in both eyes, but usually only occurs in one eye.  If it is not treated, this condition can also cause acute or even permanent loss of vision.  If glasses or patching isn’t effective, then an orthoptist may recommend surgery for this condition.

Orthoptists can work in private practice, in hospitals, in low vision clinics, in the research field or in private clinics.  Since orthoptics is such a small field, the demand for orthoptists can be quite high.

How do you become an orthoptist?

There are only two universities in Australia who offer the relevant undergraduate degree course.  At La Trobe University in Victoria you can undertake a four year double degree in Bachelor of Health Sciences and Master of Orthoptics.  Obtaining this double degree qualifies you to work as an orthoptist.

At Sydney University in New South Wales, you can undertake a three year Bachelor of  Health Sciences degree and then go on to complete a two year  Master of Orthoptics degree in order to become a qualified orthoptist.

Once you are qualified as an orthoptist, you can apply for registration with the Australian Orthoptic Board.  Although registering with the Board is not essential, many employers will expect you to be a registered member.

If you’re fascinated by the field of eye care, then you may find a career as an orthoptist very rewarding.  You will be assisting people with vision problems overcome them and  helping them to gain better vision.

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