Retina specialists are ophthalmologists who have subspecialized in the retina. They thoroughly study the retina (and vitreous) of the eye, allowing them to better diagnose and treat complex eye conditions related to their niche.

Education, Training & Qualifications for Retina Specialists'

Retina specialists are trained ophthalmologists that subspecialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions related to the vitreous body of the eye and the retina. The required education and training process generally involve the following:

  1. 4 years of medical school
  2. 1 year in a medical internship
  3. 3 years in an ophthalmology residency program
  4. 1–2 years in a retina-vitreous fellowship

Assuming a medical professional takes the most efficient path possible to becoming a retina specialist, this means someone can expect about 9 to 10 years of education and training after high school before fully entering their chosen career.

What Do Retina Specialists Do?

While retina specialists train to understand the human body and the eye specifically, earning a legitimate medical degree in the process, their focus is on the retina and the vitreous of the eye.

The eye is a delicate organ, with some layers of tissue as thin as a butterfly’s wing. Ophthalmologists may refer patients to retina specialists when they believe more specialized knowledge and training are required to provide the best care.

A retina specialist may perform a variety of diagnostic and treatment procedures in their day-to-day work. Some common conditions retina specialists treat include the following:

  • Diabetic retinopathies
  • Retinal detachments
  • Macular holes
  • Age-related macular degeneration

They may also help treat eye trauma, performing detailed surgery to help repair the eye.

Why See a Retina Specialist?

Because the eye is a complex organ, a general ophthalmology education is sometimes insufficient to provide a patient with the most accurate diagnosis and highest quality of care. In these cases, specialists may represent a better alternative, or even a patient’s only option, compared to a generalist.

The retina is one of the most sensitive and complicated parts of the eye, only about 0.10 mm at its thinnest point, and it is critical for sight. The light-sensitive retinal cells in your eye are what send visual information to your brain.

How to Find a Retina Specialist

Generally, a patient’s primary care optometrist or ophthalmologist refers them to a retina specialist when needed. You can also use the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) site to Find a Retina Specialist based on your location.

Optometrist vs. Ophthalmologist vs. Retina Specialist

Three similar but distinct titles related to eye health are optometrist, ophthalmologist, and retina specialist. The basic differences between these titles are as follows:

Optometrist

Optometrists are doctors of optometry, and they are generally the best option for your primary eye care needs. They can administer comprehensive eye exams, diagnose many eye health conditions, help patients develop treatment plans as necessary, and provide prescriptions for corrective lenses.

If an individual doesn’t know which option is best for an eye or vision problem they’re experiencing, an optometrist is a good option to begin with, as they can also refer them to a more specialized medical professional if necessary. The exception to this is if a person is experiencing a medical emergency, such as severe trauma to the eye, in which case they should instead call 911 or go to a hospital.

Ophthalmologist

Ophthalmologists are eye specialists who focus on medical and surgical eye care. They can diagnose and treat most eye diseases. Some also conduct scientific research to advance the field.

If the appropriate treatment for an eye health condition is surgery, it is generally an ophthalmologist who will perform that surgery.

Retina Specialist

Again, retina specialists are ophthalmologists who have subspecialized in the retina. This is when an individual in a specialist niche (ophthalmology) further focuses on an aspect of that niche (in this case, the retina).

There are multiple reasons a person might do this. The most obvious is an interest in the particular subspecialty. The retina is a genuinely interesting and important part of the eye.

Subspecializing can also help a person make more money. While the overall demand for subspecialists is often lower than for specialists, there are also fewer of them and the profession requires more training, meaning an individual who can find a position may make more than the average ophthalmologist.

Subspecialists are also an essential part of providing patients the best medical care. A person who has studied the specifics of the retina and works on that area of the eye more frequently can better diagnose eye conditions related to their specialty and is less likely to make errors during treatment.

For the most complicated health conditions, especially delicate operations, this difference may represent a patient avoiding permanent vision loss or otherwise seeing much better results than even a trained non-subspecialized ophthalmologist could provide.

Fellow of the American Society of Retina Specialists

The Fellow of the American Society of Retina Specialists (FASRS) designation is a prestigious title bestowed to members of the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) in upright standing who meet certain criteria. These requirements are meant to ensure members’ experience and expertise as retina specialists.

While there are a few paths to earn this designation, the most common is through five continuous years or more as an ASRS regular member and attendance at a minimum of three ASRS annual meetings within a six-year window prior to earning one’s FASRS designation. The designation must also be renewed every six years.

While a retina specialist doesn’t have to join the ASRM or earn a FASRS designation in order to practice, it can make it easier for a patient to see they’re qualified. If you go to see a retina specialist, it is worth asking if a specialist has this or similar designations or accolades.

References

Fellow of the American Society of Retina Specialists (FASRS). The American Society of Retina Specialists.

Find a Retina Specialist. The American Society of Retina Specialists.

Ophthalmologist? Optometrist? Retina Specialist? What’s the Difference? American Diabetes Association.

The Organization of the Retina and Visual System. (July 2007). University of Utah Health Sciences Center.

What Is a Retina Specialist? The American Society of Retina Specialists.

Insights Into Career Prospects After Post-Graduation in Ophthalmology. (December 2021). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.

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