Did you know that one in every five preschoolers in the United States has vision problems? If left untreated, these vision problems can develop into much more serious issues and negatively affect not only their eyesight but also their performance in school, safety, and overall quality of life.
Becoming a pediatric eye doctor or ophthalmologist is a wonderful way to give back to your community and contribute to a brighter (and clearer!) future for children. Pediatric ophthalmology can be a highly rewarding career, but it takes specific education, skills, and experience to excel in the industry and find personal fulfillment. Read on to find out if you have what it takes to become a pediatric eye doctor!
Important Pediatric Eye Doctor Skills
The skills below are essential for any type of eye care professional, but especially those that specialize in pediatrics and spend their days working with children and families:
- Communication: Unlike other eye doctors, a pediatric eye doctor needs to be able to communicate effectively with both children and their accompanying family members or caretakers. Communicating with children of different ages and levels of understanding can be challenging, but you need to ensure they feel comfortable and pay close attention to nonverbal cues to sense any discomfort they may be experiencing. You also need to communicate instructions clearly if you want children to cooperate. When interacting with caretakers, you must adjust your communication style to clearly explain diagnoses and treatment options so that they can make the best decision for their children. All in all, your communication skills need to be highly adaptable.
- Attention to Detail: Because communication with children can be challenging and they often struggle to explain their symptoms verbally, it’s very important to be diligent and pay close attention to detail. You need to pay attention to not only what children tell you, but also their nonverbal communication. You need to have a keen eye and pick up on seemingly unimportant details in order to piece together an accurate diagnosis.
- Patience: Most pediatric eye doctors agree that the benefits of working with children far outweigh the challenges, but there will definitely be some difficult patients to work with. Patience and understanding are key skills that will make it much easier to relate to children with behavioral issues. Working with caretakers often requires patience too, as they can be anxious and overbearing– often asking more questions and pushing back on decisions more than they would during their own eye care appointments.
- Trauma-Informed Advocacy: Any medical professional working with children must be prepared to deal with traumatic or tragic cases, such as child abuse or neglect. Optometrists and ophthalmologists are mandatory reporters by law, so they need to be familiar with the signs and behaviors exhibited by abused children and the necessary steps required to make reports to the appropriate authorities. No matter how challenging the circumstances may be, eye care professionals must remain compliant with the law and committed to advocating for the child’s best interests.
- Determination: Becoming a qualified eye doctor of any kind will take patience and determination due to the years of schooling and professional experience required. If you choose to specialize in pediatric ophthalmology, you’ll need even more perseverance to complete the additional training and education requirements. We’ll go over the process and requirements in the section below, so keep reading to learn more!
Steps to Become a Kids Eye Doctor
Pediatric eye doctors, or pediatric ophthalmologists, are eye care specialists that focus on children and are qualified to diagnose and treat all diseases and disorders of the eye and perform surgery as needed.
If you’re interested in pediatric eye care, it’s important to understand the difference between pediatric optometrists vs pediatric ophthalmologists. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists can perform eye exams and vision tests and prescribe glasses or contacts if needed. However, optometrists aren’t licensed medical doctors while ophthalmologists are.
To become a pediatric optometrist, you must complete three or more years of college and four years of optometry school to obtain a doctor of optometry (OD) degree. Before practicing optometry, some pediatric optometrists complete additional clinical training or a specialty fellowship to gain specialized experience, though this is not required.
In contrast, to become a pediatric opthalmologist, you’ll need to complete four years of medical school and a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year hospital-based residency in ophthalmology. To specialize in pediatric ophthalmology, you must then go on to complete an additional specialty fellowship or residency program for at least a year. Finally, ophthalmologists must obtain a license to practice medicine from the state where they plan to practice ophthalmology.
The Importance of Eye Doctor Pediatric Residency Programs
Pediatric optometry and ophthalmology residency programs will equip you with specialized knowledge and skills for the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of pediatric vision conditions. One of the most challenging aspects of providing eye care for children is that they can experience considerable development from one year to the next in both their vision and cognitive skills. With more advanced training under your belt, you’ll be much more confident in treating children of a wide range of ages and developmental stages, including more complex cases. You’ll be able to adapt your testing and evaluation methods to match the child’s stage of development and deliver a higher standard of care.
Even though pediatric residency programs or specialty fellowships aren’t required for optometrists like they are for ophthalmologists, they come highly recommended by industry professionals for anyone pursuing a career in pediatric eye care. A residency program on your resume will help you market yourself to a wider range of employers, including both hospitals and private practices. Many parents specifically look for eye care professionals with specialized pediatric training, so this investment can also help you attract more patients.
Another benefit of pediatric residency programs or fellowships is the ability to try out different sub-specialties and discover your niche. Most programs include rotations, which provide you with first-hand experience in different settings and departments, such as pediatric ophthalmology or pediatric neurology. This variety of experience will help round out your skills and make you a more versatile pediatric eye doctor.
Benefits of Becoming a Pediatric Eye Doctor
As you can probably tell from the section above, the process of becoming a pediatric eye doctor is long and challenging. However, for those who succeed in completing the requirements, the rewards will surely be abundant!
Here are a few of the many reasons why pediatric ophthalmology is such a highly sought-after career:
- You’ll have the opportunity to serve often underserved pediatric patients and make a difference in their lives.
- The job market for pediatric ophthalmology is not as highly saturated or competitive, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities available to you.
- You’ll be equipped to serve both adults and children, which gives you a lot of flexibility and the ability to serve entire families under one roof. Adding a pediatric specialty is a great way to expand and grow your practice!
- Pediatric eye doctors report good quality of life, work-life balance, and job satisfaction compared to other medical careers. There are fewer after-hours emergencies and on-call responsibilities required.
- You’ll have the opportunity to build relationships with your patients throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Seeing them improve year after year is highly rewarding!
- Pediatric ophthalmology is financially rewarding as well. The average Pediatric Ophthalmologist salary in the United States was $390,671 in 2022, while the average general/non-specialized Ophthalmologist salary was $309,900.
Pediatric Eye Doctor Medicaid Resources
According to Medicaid.gov, children and adolescents enrolled in Medicaid should receive both vision screenings at each check-up and have access to many services that can address vision problems. Unfortunately, in reality, studies show that children with Medicaid have lower odds of obtaining eye care appointments compared to other children. As a pediatric eye care provider, you need to understand how to support children on Medicaid and do everything in your power to ensure equal access to appointments and care.
Navigating the complexities of Medicaid billing and coding can be challenging, but there are many resources out there to help you. The Medicaid website is a good place to start when looking for resources. Additionally, joining a professional eye care network like PECAA will allow you to access countless training opportunities, resources, and optometry billing consulting services for doctors and staff members alike. With these resources at your fingertips, your practice will be fully prepared to welcome and work with families on different types of insurance, including Medicaid.
The Importance of Pediatric Eye Care
If you’re serious about becoming a pediatric eye care professional, you should be passionate about the importance of pediatric eye care and choose this career for the right reasons. You probably know that vision problems among children, when left untreated, can progress to much more serious issues, including permanent vision loss. Prevention is always better than a cure, and the sooner you can prevent a vision problem from forming, the better.
However, you need to think more holistically and understand that eye care for children isn’t just about eye health– vision issues can severely interfere with children’s development, safety, education, and overall quality of life. Research suggests that eighty to eighty-five percent of our perception, learning, cognition, and activities are mediated through vision, so poor vision can significantly impact one’s daily life. As a pediatric eye doctor, you should be a passionate advocate for all children, especially underserved or marginalized children.
A passion for working with children is an important quality that will help get you through the challenging times and find fulfillment in this career. If working with children energizes you (rather than draining you) and brings you joy, you’ll go far as a pediatric eye doctor!
Becoming the Best Pediatric Eye Doctor with PECAA
Whether you’re just starting your pediatric eye doctor education or are preparing to open the doors of your pediatric ophthalmology practice, joining PECAA will provide you with access to all the resources and support you need to excel in this challenging yet rewarding field.
As a member of one of the nation’s leading Doctor Alliance Groups, you’ll have opportunities to connect with and learn from some of the best optometrists and ophthalmologists in the industry, including many pediatric specialists. In addition to valuable networking opportunities, you’ll also have access to consulting, marketing support, staff training, HR support, coaching, and countless other resources to help you run a successful pediatric optometry or ophthalmology practice. With our group discounts and loyalty rebate programs, you can cut down on costs and propel your practice forward.
Join PECAA today and we’ll help you become the best pediatric eye doctor you can be!