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"Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine that provides the complete medical and surgical care of the eye and related structures of the visual system (extraocular muscles, eyelids, orbit, nerves, visual pathways, and more). Yes, they can (and often do) prescribe glasses and contact lenses. But their spectrum of care extends much further. It requires mastery of the anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and pathophysiology of the eye, as well as an understanding of optical physics. To treat ocular and visual disorders, ophthalmologists are really both internists and surgeons."

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p.311.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Students should contact us early on. We can try and set up shadowing experiences. You can also get involved in department events, such as attending grand rounds and Research Day. Various research projects are also possible.

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

Meaningful research is helpful. Publications are helpful. It does not need to be in ophthalmology, however this does demonstrate an interest in this field. Research experience is not essential to matching, but it can help.

M3 and M4 Students

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

These are not essential, but may be helpful: ENT, plastics, dermatology, infectious disease and rheumatology.

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

The Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology does not recommend audition electives. In some cases, an away rotation may be considered (for example: need to match in a geographic location).

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many "aways" do you recommend?

I do not recommend more than one away.

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

If an away elective is chosen, the best time to do it is after the MS4 elective at Northwestern is done. Interviews are generally in October to December. It is best to try and to an elective before then.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

Interviews for Ophthalmology occur in October to December, as it is an early match. It is best to have a flexible schedule during these times. They will also be interviewing for internships, which usually occurs later. This needs to be considered as well.

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?


 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

Surgery, surgical sub-specialties, medicine, neurology and OB-GYN.

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

It helps, but the most important thing is the quality and contents of the letter. I recommend a letter writer who knows the applicant well and can speak specifically about that individual.

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?


 Ophthalmology Specialty Session - Winter / Residency Application Information

During the winter of the M3 year, students should attend specialty sessions sponsored by the Department of Ophthalmology to learn more about the specialty and meet attendings and residents in the field.

Department of Ophthalmology Website

Request an Ophthalmology Adviser

Contact our Ophthalmology Advising Coordinator:


Nicholas J. Volpe, MD
Chair, Department of Ophthalmology
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Rukhsana Mirza, MD
Ophthalmology Career Advising Coordinator
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For More Information

Department of Ophthalmology
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
645 N. Michigan Ave., #400
Chicago, IL 60611