Intended for healthcare professionals


How to make the most of your ophthalmology placement

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 21 March 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q682
  1. Ping Hei Alfie Lee1,
  2. James Fisher1,
  3. Daniela Vaideanu-Collins2
  1. 1Newcastle University Medical School
  2. 2James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough
  1. Correspondence to PHA Lee p.lee2{at}

The demand for ophthalmology services in the UK is eye wateringly high. In the past decade, ophthalmology accounted for the largest number of outpatient appointments of any medical specialty in the UK,1 and in 2019 alone, more than 450 000 cataract operations were performed across England.2 Vision is so important that we devote over one third of our brain to processing visual information.3 Yet at medical school, students’ exposure to ophthalmology is often limited, with little scope for clinical experience.4 To ensure that your ophthalmology placement doesn’t go past in a blur, here are some pointers to help you make the most of the experience.

Before placement

Familiarise yourself with the basic anatomy of the eyeball, especially the cornea, lens, and retina. Without this knowledge it will be very hard to follow what is going on in the clinic or theatre. Review common causes of vision loss and red eye—this will give you greater insight into the clinical reasoning used by clinicians in eye clinics. Ophthalmology has a unique lexicon as well as a distinctive blend of biochemistry and physics. See box 1 for some useful resources, and box 2 for an approach to taking an eye focused history.

Box 1

Key reading materials and toolkits

  • OpthoBook by Tim Root (—a free electronic resource that succinctly defines commonly used terms in ophthalmology, along with easy to understand explanations of key concepts5

  • Basic Ophthalmology: Essentials for Medical Students by the American Academy of Ophthalmology—introduces students to a systematic approach to history taking, eye examination, imaging modalities, and clinical reasoning for common eye complaints5

  • ABC of Eyes by PT Khaw, P Shah, AR Elkington—a concise overview of eye pathology seen within primary care or the emergency department6

  • NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary (CKS)—a comprehensive overview of prevalence, risk factors, diagnostic pathways, management, and prognosis of …

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