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An orthoptist is an eye muscle specialist who works under the supervision of an ophthalmologist. The orthoptist is responsible for the evaluation of vision and ocular alignment using specialized examination techniques. The orthoptist actively participates in the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of patients with decreased vision and misaligned eyes.
The Orthoptic Training Program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is located in the Pomerantz Family Pavilion. The majority of the patients are examined in the Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus Service. Teaching is carried out by staff ophthalmologists, Richard J. Olson, MD, Susannah Longmuir, MD, Arlene Drack, MD, Scott Larson, MD, and emeritus professor, W.E. Scott, MD, and staff orthoptists, Wanda L. Pfeifer, OC(C), COMT, Megan Campbell, CO, and Tara Bragg, CO, as well as many other department faculty. The Orthoptic Training Program at the University of Iowa is the longest running program in the nation. The program and students have received the Scobee National Award for highest achievement on board exams several times.
Students interested in a career in orthoptics must have completed a baccalaureate degree in an accredited college or university. An undergraduate major in science is preferred including exposure to the following areas of study: biology, physical science, anatomy, mathematics, physiology, child development, psychology.
The U.S. Department of Education established new regulations designed to ensure that vocational programs prepare their students for gainful employment.
Orthoptics at the University of Iowa is offered as a zero credit hour course: as such, there is no tuition fee. Students are required to register with the University of Iowa at the beginning of each semester and a registration fee is charged. Fees are determined by the university and tend to increase each year. This allows the student University privileges which include use of the library and other resource facilities, financial aid, health insurance and student discounts. Students are eligible for a small scholarship through JCAHPO. They are also eligible for a low interest student loan specifically available for orthoptic students called the Costenbader Loan. Information on this loan can be found on the AACO website. Many students also apply for federal financial aid and loans through the University of Iowa. Contact Iowa’s Office of Financial Aid for more information.
A 24 month training period combines theoretical orthoptics and clinical experience. Students work under the direct supervision of a certified orthoptist and an ophthalmologist. The student is provided with a basic foundation upon which he or she may build to the fullest extent of his or her capability and willingness. Initially, an introduction to the structures and functions of the eye and to the anatomical substrates of eye movements is given. Specific subject matter includes: anatomy and physiology of the eye, neuroanatomy pertinent to eye movements, physiologic optics, basic ocular pharmacology, diagnostic tests, differential diagnosis, and an introduction to the principles of general ophthalmology. Patient examination begins with supervised preliminary testing and expands as the student gains the necessary level of ability and proficiency.
Each student shall be required to complete at least one research project under the supervision of a staff orthoptist during his/her training period. This project will be presented at the ophthalmology departmental research day as well as at the Midwest Regional Orthoptic meeting (funding permitting).
After completion of 24 months of orthoptic training, upon recommendation of the director of training, a student is eligible to sit for the national board examinations offered by the American Orthoptic Council. The written board examination is given locally in June. The oral/practical board examination is given to all eligible candidates in September or October at one central location in the US. A fee is charged for these examinations. Candidates who demonstrate proficiency on both written and oral/practical sections of the examination are awarded the title Certified Orthoptist. 100% of graduates from the Iowa Orthoptic Program pass their board examinations. Newly certified orthoptists are encouraged to join the American Association of Certified Orthoptists for continued education and progress in the profession.
Placement of certified orthoptists is 100% throughout the United States. Employment opportunities exceed the number of available orthoptists each year. After certification, an orthoptist is able to choose from a number of different career opportunities. In teaching hospitals, the orthoptist may be involved with residents and orthoptic student training, patient examination, and clinic administration. In private practice with an ophthalmologist, the orthoptist may enjoy a variety of diverse responsibilities such as patient examination, surgical assisting, providing patients and their families with a basic understanding of pediatric ophthalmologic disorders, participating in local vision screening programs and acting as an office manager or clinic coordinator. Many orthoptists are involved in clinical research, the results of which may be published in professional journals or presented at regional or national meetings. Part-time positions and placement abroad are among career alternatives.
Applications for the orthoptic training program can be obtained by contacting Tara Bragg, CO, Director of the Orthoptic Training Program or download (Application, MS Word format) | (Application, pdf format)
Deadline for applications is March 1st. A committee will review all completed applications; letters will be sent to all applicants indicating whether or not they have been accepted to interview. Interviews are conducted in late March and early April. All applicants will be notified whether or not they have been accepted to the program. Accepted applicants begin training the first week of August. The Orthoptic Training Program at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has positions for two orthoptic students per year.