What is an Orthoptist?
Orthoptists are the experts in diagnosing and treating defects in eye movement and problems with how the eyes work together, called binocular vision. These can be caused by issues with the muscles around the eyes or defects in the nerves enabling the brain to communicate with the eyes.
Orthoptists see patients with a wide range of conditions affecting their vision. Patients may be directly experiencing symptoms such as blurred, oscillating or double vision, or they may exhibit outward signs, such as misalignment or uncontrolled movement of the eyes or abnormal head positions.
They are trained to offer a range of treatments in the management or correction of these conditions. This may include eye patches, eye exercises, prisms or glasses.
You can read about some of the more common condition and treatments here.
They also commonly work with patients with neurological conditions, such as stroke, brain tumours or multiple sclerosis, as part of a wider multi professional team. They help patients to manage the visual symptoms of their condition and provide advice for the visual and general rehabilitation of these patients.
All Orthoptists are qualified with a substantial core body of knowledge and expertise. However their role has grown and many continue to train and study to gain an even wider knowledge base. This enables them to perform much more specialist, advanced or extended roles.
Where do they work?
The majority of Orthoptists are employed by the NHS in hospitals or community eye services. They are very often part of wider eye care teams, alongside Ophthalmologists and sometimes Optometrists. Some work in rehabilitation centres working with patients with neurological conditions.
They are specialists in assessing vision in children and those with communication difficulties. Therefore they also work in both mainstream and special schools, child development centres and adult day care facilities.
Who are they regulated by?
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. They set standards of education, training and practice and ensure that all registrants meet their set standards. They also take action if professionals on their Register do not meet their standards.
If an individual has a concern about an Orthoptist’s fitness to practice or is not happy with the treatment they have received, they can raise this concern with the HCPC, who will investigate.
What qualifications do they have?
All are required to have a qualification in Orthoptics, approved by the HCPC, with all new entrants to the profession requiring an undergraduate degree. 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 three years.
If you are interested in becoming an Orthoptist, you can find out more about courses available in the UK here.