Ophthalmologist vs. Retina Specialist: Defining the Differences
Given the delicate nature of one’s vision – and the anxiety any visual impairment can cause – patients should feel empowered and confident when choosing a provider. There are several types of doctors and specialists across the eyecare spectrum, and understanding what distinguishes them is one step toward a more successful ocular health journey.
A common cause for confusion is the difference between a retina specialist and a general ophthalmologist. Unpacking the care and treatment offered by both can help inform future decision making.
What is a General Ophthalmologist?
General ophthalmologists are medical doctors trained to diagnose and treat many eye conditions, as well as support patients’ general eye health. They offer a broad range of vision-related care, from fitting eyeglasses to performing surgeries.
Reasons someone would see an ophthalmologist include:
- A comprehensive eye exam
- A prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Surgical treatment for cataracts or glaucoma
- Vision therapy
To become a general ophthalmologist, one must complete four years of medical school, followed by a one-year internship program and a 3-year ophthalmology residency.
From there, they may choose to focus on an ophthalmology subspecialty — such as retinal and vitreous care, glaucoma, or ocular oncology — and then complete the advanced training required.
What Is a Retina Specialist?
A retina specialist is a medical doctor who has received advanced specialty training in the field of ophthalmology, as well as in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases affecting the retina, macula, and vitreous.
In order to become a retina specialist, a physician must complete:
- Four years of medical school
- One year as an intern
- Three years of ophthalmology training
- Two years in a surgical retina fellowship
This advanced level of education and training gives retina specialists the unique ability to diagnose and treat macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachments, macular holes, macular pucker, and vascular occlusive diseases of the eye. If considering it sequentially, it’s highly likely a patient will see an ophthalmologist before seeing a retina specialist. Similar to the way a primary care doctor may refer a patient to a specialist like a cardiologist or an endocrinologist, an ophthalmologist will often refer a patient to a retina specialist to ensure their specific needs are addressed by a more qualified doctor.
Reasons someone would see a retina specialist include:
- Diabetic Retinopathy
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
- Retinal Vein and Artery Occlusions
- Retinal Tears and Detachments
- Macular Hole Surgery
- Macular Pucker
- Floaters and Flashes
- Complications from Cataract Surgery
The Retina Specialists of Retina Associates, LLC.
The physicians of Retina Associates, LLC. are highly educated and highly attentive, meeting the moment with a level of unmatched expertise and compassion. Beyond caring for your eyes, our team ensures you understand each step of the process and feel comfortable in the location you’re receiving care.