Pediatric ophthalmology is a specialized area of ophthalmology that comes with its own set of unique challenges, benefits, and opportunities. Is it the right fit for you?
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand your ophthalmology practice, the tips and resources below will help you answer this question and establish a successful and rewarding career in pediatric ophthalmology.
If you still have questions after reading this, you may want to consider investing in some professional ophthalmology or optometry consulting to help you feel more confident in your decision and career path.
Why Become a Pediatric Ophthalmologist?
One reason to become a pediatric ophthalmologist is that it can be an easier field to get into compared to ophthalmology in general. Studies show that pediatric ophthalmology fellowships are declining in popularity, and are therefore less competitive.
Another reason to become a pediatric ophthalmologist is that pediatric patients are under-served in many communities, which means there will be a much higher demand for your services and less competition for patients. This will also make it easier for you to land a great job.
Sometimes, ophthalmologists choose not to focus solely on pediatric ophthalmology, so as not to narrow or limit their patient base, especially when running a solo practice. That being said, adding pediatric ophthalmology services to your ophthalmology practice allows you to serve a wider age range. Providing services for the whole family can be a great way to grow your practice.
Last but not least, if you are the kind of person that enjoys spending time with and working with children, pediatric ophthalmology can be a very fun, fulfilling, and rewarding experience!
Ophthalmologist for Kids vs. Adults
There are some key differences between providing ophthalmology services for children versus adults that are important to consider.
When you look at average per-patient revenue, children do not typically generate as much revenue as adults and older patients. In fact, studies show that individuals older than age 65 years consume 10 times the amount of eye care compared with those younger than 65 years. But it’s important to remember that children grow up and become adults. If you are able to start patients young and retain them for life, you can maximize their lifetime value and revenue.
Similarly, surgery is less common when working with children compared to older populations. This can be a pro or a con, depending on your interests, but many pediatric ophthalmologists find that it contributes to reduced stress and a better work-life balance.
Of course, children can be more challenging to examine than adults. Kids may struggle to sit still, might have behavioral problems, are sometimes more fearful than adults, and may be hard to communicate with. A lot of ophthalmologists are intimidated or uninterested in working with children for these reasons, but others love working with children and are more than ready for these types of challenges. You just need to think about your skills and interest in working with pediatric patients and do what’s best for you.
The Path to Becoming a Pediatric Eye Specialist or Ophthalmologist
If you’re interested in pediatric ophthalmology, there’s more good news! Compared to many other surgical fields, the path to becoming a pediatric ophthalmologist is shorter. The path to ophthalmology residency includes an intern year, which can be a transitional year, a medicine year, or a specific pediatric year. Next, you must complete your ophthalmology residency, which usually takes three years. Finally, you can do a fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology. So all in all, you can get to work and start earning income in just five years after medical school graduation.
Key Tips to Help You Become a Successful Pediatric Eye Doctor
There are many things you can do to succeed in this field beyond getting an education and participating in a fellowship. Here are a few key tips and resources to help you:
- Study Up on Pediatric Best Practices: As with any specialized field, you need to study and keep up with best practices long after your formal education comes to an end. The latest AOA Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination guideline is a great place to start!
- Purchase Specialized Instruments, Equipment, & Supplies: When working with children, you may need to make slight adjustments to the tools and techniques you use. As an example, to conduct exams on infants and children, you may need lens bars, a retinoscope, and a binocular indirect ophthalmoscope, as well as some form of entertaining fixation object (this could be a rattle or toy that lights up or makes noises) to help you conduct extraocular muscle function and cover testing.
- Make Your Office Kid-Friendly and Comfortable: Keeping children entertained while they wait will make your office feel less hectic and can help keep parents and kids coming back. A few toys or a television in the waiting area can go a long way! Safety is always an important consideration when it comes to optometry office design, but especially in pediatrics.
- Educate & Engage Parents: The AOA recommends that children receive an eye examination every single year, because vision may change frequently during school years. Sadly though, it is estimated that 95% of the 4 million children entering first grade each year have never seen an eye doctor. Parents need to be educated about the importance of eye examinations for their children. Conducting parent outreach and education can help you gain new pediatric patients.
- Network With Other Pediatric Ophthalmologists: Joining an ophthalmology or optometry network can be extremely helpful, whether you’re just starting out or already running an established ophthalmology practice. There’s always plenty to learn from your peers, and you’ll feel more supported and confident if you have a network of other ophthalmologists you can turn to for advice and support when the going gets tough!
- Invest in Ophthalmology/Optometry Consulting: If you decide to start your own ophthalmology practice, you’ll be faced with many new challenges and responsibilities, many of which require business skills that you probably never learned in medical school. Thankfully, there are expert ophthalmology consultants out there ready to help you with everything from billing and coding to HR.
Support for Your Pediatric Ophthalmology Practice!
No matter where you’re at in your pediatric ophthalmology career, becoming a member of the Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA) will propel you forward and put you on a path to success. As a member, you can take advantage of networking opportunities, business consulting, billing and coding support, marketing support, group buying power to reduce costs, and so much more.