What is an orthoptist?


Have you ever wondered what an orthoptist does?  Find out about our orthoptists and the work they do here at UHDB.  Whether you're a patient or you're interested in becoming an orthoptist, here's what you need to know.

What is an orthoptist and what patients do they see?

Orthoptic has the Greek roots orthos, meaning ‘straight’, and optikos, meaning ‘relating to sight’, therefore simply ‘straight eyes’. Orthoptists diagnose and manage disorders of vision and binocular vision. Their expertise lies in analysing the ocular movement systems, requiring a close attention to detail in order to identify why the eyes are not working correctly as a pair. Such problems may be caused by the eye musculature or faulty nerve signals within the brain. Much of the workload involves young children with amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (squint). 

 As the orthoptic profession continues to develop, they have come to be recognised as the experts in a much wider variety of eye disorders.

What’s a typical day for an orthoptist?

“During a day I will have a list of booked patients with a wide range of conditions affecting vision. These patients may be experiencing symptoms such as blurred or double vision or they may exhibit outward signs, such as misalignment or uncontrolled movement of the eyes. Trained in the management and correction of these conditions, I can offer my patients eye exercises, prisms or glasses.

Many of the patients are children under the age of 6 years, demanding a high level of skill and patience in working with infants.  My role includes supporting parents whose children need glasses and occlusion therapy (eye patching) to overcome a lazy eye.

I also work with patients with neurological conditions, such as stroke and multiple sclerosis, as part of a wider multi professional team. I can help my patients to manage the visual symptoms of their condition and provide advice for their visual and general rehabilitation.

As well as planned care, my day will often include assessment of urgent cases, for example referred from the Maxillo-Facial unit with double vision following a fall.”

Career paths for an orthoptist

Orthoptics is a 3-4 year undergraduate degree course depending on where you study, which is currently run at Sheffield, Liverpool and Glasgow Universities. Students qualify with either a BSc or a B(Med)Sci, again depending on the university attended, and this allows them to register with the HCPC and practice as an orthoptist. As well as being taught the required theoretical knowledge, students in orthoptics are also required to gain extensive practical clinical experience.

Courses typically include around 30 weeks in clinical hospital and community eye service placements across the degree. Orthoptist is a title that is protected by law, and can only be used by those registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC regulate 16 health and care professions.

All orthoptists qualify with a substantial core body of knowledge and expertise. However, the role has grown significantly and many will continue to train and study gaining an even wider knowledge base. This enables them to perform much more specialist, advanced or extended roles.

Why I became a orthoptist

“I always wanted a role where I felt that I could help people and really make a difference. Being an Allied Health Professional enables me to work with a highly specialised group of individuals providing care and support for our patients. It can be as simple as providing a child with a pair of glasses and they are then able to see, helping an adult with their diplopia (double vision) or more detailed support and advice to children and families who have severe sight loss. It’s about how we communicate and liaise with each other and external services to provide these individuals with the best possible outcome.”