- Choosing a medical specialty is a very important and complex decision that is exciting while somewhat stressful. Ophthalmology is a tremendously enjoyable, interesting field that involves the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the eye.
- It is a unique field of medicine that unites medical and surgical skills for optimal patient care. It also allows the physician to follow a patient from the time of presentation and diagnosis through treatment (either surgical or medical) and long-term follow-up in many cases. As a result of recent scientific and technological advancements, ophthalmology offers possibilities for diagnostic precision that are unavailable in many other specialties.
- Continuing advances in laser vision correction, the genetics of glaucoma, and future nonsurgical cataract extraction make ophthalmology an exciting and rapidly advancing field. Currently, cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States Subspecialties of ophthalmology include pediatrics, glaucoma, oculoplastics, vitreoretinal, oncology, neuro-ophthalmology, uveitis, cornea and ocular pathology.
- Most programs report that half of their residents pursue fellowship training and half practice comprehensive ophthalmology although the trend is more residents pursuing fellowship.
- The ophthalmology match is organized through the CAS (Central Application Service) in San Francisco. You will submit your application electronically to the SF Match. You will be very thankful that it is an early match and you will learn your fate in mid-January, approximately two months before your classmates discover their match.
- Ophthalmology has a reputation for being highly competitive. If this is a field that you want to match into, do not let this deter you. Speak with faculty in the field about your chances and what you can do to strengthen your application.
I found these resources very helpful: The Iowa Guide to the Ophthalmology Match and the University of Minnesota’s Medical Student Guide to the Ophthalmology Match
Shadowing- Before deciding on ophthalmology or signing up for the elective it is helpful, but not necessary, to shadow in the clinic and OR. For these opportunities contact Dr. Levin.
Ophthalmology Elective- A one-month rotation at University of Maryland is standard. If you have done this in your 3rd year and have a LOR from it, then you can concentrate on doing away rotations in your 4th year. Otherwise, the earlier this 4th year rotation is done, the better, so do the rotation in July (preferably) or August. Dr. Levin directs this elective, so contact her if you have any questions.
- Try to get to know a faculty member who can write you a letter of recommendation. Dr. Jeng has been the ophthalmology chair since 2013. He is an incredible resource for any student and/or applicant. He did his training at Cleveland Clinic and then served as the ophthalmology residency program director at UCSF prior to coming to Maryland. He is very approachable and knows a LOT of people in the world of ophthalmology.
- Dr. Saeedi is known to do a lot of clinical research that students can get involved with, while Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Mathews do a lot of basic lab research.
- A short presentation during grand rounds is necessary to receive honors. Organize with the chief resident and the physician in charge of the rotation for when you can present as a part of grand rounds. If Dr. Jeng can make it that day too, it’s great! This is usually only 5-8 minutes.
Sub-Speciality Surgery Elective- In addition to the dedicated ophthalmology elective, you can request to do 2 weeks of ophthalmology during the sub-speciality surgery elective.
Neurology- Some students have asked to work in the neuro-ophthalmology clinic as part of their neurology clerkship
Away Rotations- Away rotations are always the subject of debate among medical students. There are two theories. The first being to do an away rotation at a place that you may not get an interview otherwise. The second is to do one at a place that you might get in anyway so that you are “locked in”. My advice to you is to do an away rotation at a competitive program. If there is a specific geographic location you would like to go for residency, you may want to consider doing an away in that area. An away elective is preferably done in July, August, September or October of your 4th year as these are the months prior to or during the time for interview offers. Remember to schedule an away elective early as the better programs fill up fast. These electives are set up using VSAS. Applications for most programs open in February, March, or April. Many programs will want vaccination titers, background checks, and other documents which take time to receive/complete, so make sure you get started in the fall of third year collecting this information.
If you are nervous about your chances of matching, Dr. Jeng and Dr. Levin are good people to speak to. You can also reach out to the OSA Deans who have seen many Maryland students go through the ophthalmology match as well. It is best to talk to multiple people about your concern—don’t let one person discourage you.
Get to know the residents as they are a friendly group and act as a great resource for ophthalmological knowledge and the application process in general.
Most applicants also do either a month of research or some sort of research project. This is not required but research will benefit you on the interview trail by showing your interest in the field and as a useful topic of conversation. You can easily do a month of ophthalmology research as a 4th year elective if you feel your application is lacking in this area. Dr. Saeedi is known to do a lot of clinical research that students have been involved with in the past.
Ask for letters EARLY. This will, seemingly without fail, take longer than you think. You will probably want your application in no later than mid-August, and letters will be what hold you up in the end. Your application will not be distributed until all your LORs are uploaded by your letter writers.
NOTE: LOR’s seem to be VERY VERY important when applying to ophthalmology programs. Make sure to choose your letter writers well! The protocol is to get two ophthalmology letters as well as one from another attending with whom you have worked (often medicine or surgery, but other fields may be acceptable if the letter writer knows you well). It is best to get a medicine/surgery letter from your 3rd year rotation if you got to know the attending well since the timing of your medicine Sub-I might be after the application deadline. Ophthalmology is a small field, so choosing a letter writer who is well known to his/her academic colleagues can be a tremendous boost to your application.
The ACGME has mandated that all ophthalmology programs transition to a required PGY-1 year (either joint training program or integrated internship). While many programs have already started implementing integrated intern years, you may run across some programs that require applicants to find their own PGY-1 training. You should still plan to submit ERAS and apply to some preliminary programs, particularly those in Baltimore. Most people will complete a Preliminary-Internal Medicine year, although Transitional Years (TY), Preliminary-Surgery, and Preliminary-Peds are other options. Also, don’t forget to register for the NRMP. Even if you match at an integrated program, you may still be required to rank the program in NRMP, so pay early to avoid a late fee.
Register with VSLO for away rotations and apply.
Register with Ophthalmology Matching Program. If you don’t register you won’t be able to log into the program directory of the SF Match and view the statistics of the programs such as number of positions offered, etc. Prepare your CV and begin writing a personal statement. You will need these items when you request letters of recommendation.Many applicants make a separate email account to use with SF Match, which is helpful for configuring notifications to see interview invitations promptly. Also register for ERAS and NRMP for PGY-1 year. Do this so you won’t forget!
JULY – AUGUST
LORs should be obtained or asked for during your elective. Ask early so that the writers will have ample time. Do not be ashamed to speak to faculty at the start of a rotation about getting a letter by the end of the month. This will encourage the faculty to get to know you more. There is almost always a holdup with one of the letter writers. This is another place where OSA can help you a lot—if you have been sending constant emails reminding your writers without success, the OSA staff can contact your letter writer on your behalf. Also, find out which programs require an eye exam – several of them require testing of your stereopsis and some require more. In the past, this could simply be tested by residents. However, more programs are requiring documentation from a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist.
LATE AUGUST – EARLY SEPTEMBER
They say the “target date” is September 1st to submit your completed application to CAS but it is best to get everything in by early-August. This includes your application, letters of recommendation, transcripts and Step 1 score report (your medical school transcript is handled by OSA but you need to obtain copies of your college transcript and your USMLE score report), and a list of programs to which you are submitting your application. If you need guidance on where to apply, you can print a full list of programs from the SF Match website. Set up a meeting with Dr. Jeng and he will help you refine your list. Try to have everything submitted and complete by mid-August at the lastest.
Spell OPHTHALMOLOGY (lots of H’s) correctly in your application!!!
Find out if certain programs have their own deadline. The application is said to require up to 2-3 weeks processing time between submission and distribution to the programs, so try to have it in as early as you can. If it looks like you won’t be able to get your application in until early September and that you will potentially miss out on some programs’ deadlines, don’t panic. Just get it in as early as possible.
Don’t forget to submit your separate ERAS application (which is basically everything you submitted to SF Match, you just have to put it all in again) by September 15th! Even with the transition to integrated intern years, you should still submit ERAS on the 15th.
IMPORTANT: Note that a few programs require supplemental information, and they won’t usually go out of their way to tell you this. The SF Match website will sometimes list required supplemental information but often you will have to go directly to the individual program's website. Some programs requiring supplemental things: UCSD, Tufts, University of Washington, GW, Loma Linda, U Minnesota, U Kentucky, U Arizona... Even if you see these supplemental materials after the “deadline,” send it in anyway - later is better than never. Depending on how many programs you apply to, it can be very overwhelming to keep track of which schools have supplemental material and what you have completed, which offered interviews, which declined you, etc. MAKE AN EXCEL SHEET in google docs. This way, no matter where you are when you receive information, you can update it right away and feel most organized.
OCTOBER - NOVEMBER
Most of the invitations for interviews will arrive in October and November. This is an exciting time but be prepared that most programs will have only a few interview days and there will be multiple conflicts. The conflicts are intentional to limit interviews to serious applicants. The best way to avoid this is to schedule your interview immediately when you get the invitation (literally email or call back within 5 minutes). Try to do a rotation during these months that allows you to check your email as needed, and have your interview calendar. Any rotation outside of the OR should be fine. A smart watch, configured to only show notifications from your SF Match email, is very helpful to avoid looking at your phone for notifications. Start off by taking the earliest interview dates that you are offered, and then fill in the calendar as you go. Ideally this leaves later dates for later offers. Prelim interviews will also be coming in at this time or sooner. There are usually MANY more dates for prelim program interviews so schedule these either earlier than ophthalmology interviews (early October) or later than ophthalmology interviews (January) knowing that you can probably reschedule if needed. Prioritize ophthalmology interviews if there is a conflict.
A key piece of advice: ophthalmology programs offer VERY limited slots for interviews and you must be strategic in scheduling your interviews to avoid conflicting dates with programs you are most interested in. Most programs publish their interview dates on the SF Match website and if they do not you can look at the dates from the prior year on the Student Doctor Network. Create your own calendar so that when offered an interview, you can email back quickly with your desired dates in the order that they work best for your schedule. This is very important. It is not uncommon for applicants to miss out on an interview because of poor planning or because they did not call/email back fast enough.
Use Google Calendar (or a similar application) to keep track of all of your interviews. Once they start rolling in (along with prelim/TY interviews) they can become very difficult to keep track of. Also, your flight schedules will change, regardless of how well you try to plan your interviews. Book your flights on Southwest or be aware of flight change fees (up to $150/change in itinerary).
Make sure that you know how to answer the simple (and recurring) questions:
- Why ophthalmology?
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to come here?
- Tell me what makes you a better applicant than …?
- Talk about a challenging situation you’ve had in medical school and how you overcame it
- Tell me about your most memorable patient
- Tell me something that isn’t in your application
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- What are you looking for in a residency program?
Make sure you have examples – difficult patient/situation/rotation, why you are a hard worker (or some other trait), things that make you unique, etc. Don’t be caught off guard with some bizarre questions at some interviews—what fictional book character best describes you and why, what is your favorite book, what super power would you want most and why, if you could have dinner with 3 people living or dead who would they be and why, describe your best friend, what is your favorite app?
Be yourself on interview days.Be happy! Smile!
The bulk of interviews are in November and December. You should try to take off at least one of these months and schedule a more “flexible” elective in the other, if necessary. Most electives will be understanding. For your PGY-1 interview scheduling, it depends on your specific circumstances. With the transition to integrated intern years, it may be wise to schedule as many interviews in January (after match day) as possible, in case you match at an integrated program. Always prioritize ophthalmology interviews over PGY-1 interviews.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
The San Francisco Match
Studentdoctor.net - This is a good source, although take it with a grain of salt. Try not to let it stress you out too much!
Program Websites – often listed on the SF Match website
For more information please contact:
Last Revision - February 6, 2020