FAQs about Residencies


Commonly Asked Questions

1. What is an optometric residency?

The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) — the accrediting body for the schools and colleges of optometry and for their residencies — defines an optometric residency program as a planned program of post-OD clinical education that is designed to advance significantly the optometric graduate’s preparation as a provider of patient care services beyond entry level practice. A residency must be a minimum of twelve months and must be composed of appropriately supervised clinical eye/vision care provided by the resident. A residency should also include a well-designed mix of self-directed learning, seminar participation, instructional experiences and scholarship.

2. What is the history of optometric residencies?

Optometric residencies trace their origins back to the late 1960s. Three-month advanced clinical training programs in vision therapy were initiated in 1967 at the Optometric Center of New York. These early certificate programs were not formally recognized by any official body. The first formally accredited one-year optometric residency began in 1976 at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Since then, there has been steady growth, primarily within the Department of Veterans Affairs during the early years, but also at the schools and colleges of optometry, the Public Health Service, the military and at private co-management centers.

3. How many residency programs and positions presently exist?

Currently, there are more than 259 optometric residency programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) that have more than 468 approved positions. Other non-accredited residency programs also are available, and information on both accredited and non-accredited programs can be accessed through ASCO’s Residency Directory. Some residencies offer more than one position.

4. What types of optometric residencies exist?

There are currently eleven (11) recommended titles for optometric residencies. They are:

  • Family Practice Optometry
  • Primary Eye Care
  • Cornea and Contact Lenses
  • Geriatric Optometry
  • Pediatric Optometry
  • Low Vision Rehabilitation
  • Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Ocular Disease
  • Refractive and Ocular Surgery
  • Community Health Optometry
  • Brain Injury Vision Rehabilitation

The title of each residency reflects the primary focus of the clinical subject area and indicates advanced clinical education in that subject area. Some programs choose to focus on two of the ten areas.

5. What is the length of the training program and how much are residents paid?

Optometric residency programs, which typically run for one year from the first of July to June 30, provide a stipend that varies depending on the institution funding the program. There are a handful of programs that offer training without compensation (WOC) for graduates not selected for funded programs yet motivated to complete a residency.

6. Can I defer my student loans while completing residency training?

Since July 2009, deferments were replaced by the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan, which caps monthly payments based on a percentage of the borrower’s discretionary income. This makes the monthly payments affordable for most borrowers, typically requiring less than 10% of gross income to be devoted to repaying debt. Other choices for residents to obtain some debt relief while in residency are an extended repayment plan or forbearance.

7. Is the curriculum similar in residencies with like titles? 

In an effort to minimize the confusion among students that was fostered by arbitrary titles, ASCO developed a system for standardizing residency titles in July 1999. Each residency title is now based on the program’s clinical curriculum so those programs with the same title should have similar content and emphasis. It is important to understand, however, that programs can vary significantly in what they offer based on such factors as: setting, number of faculty associated with the residency program, availability of didactic opportunities, facilities that support the delivery of care and the strength of the preceptorship program.

8. What is expected of me as the resident in training?

Completing a residency in optometry is a unique and invaluable experience. The rich rewards gained from the additional year of training serve to enhance career opportunities and add to the level of confidence the resident has when beginning his/her post-residency career. Inherent in this training program, however, is the need to understand that these rewards are best gained by being self-motivated, enthusiastic and hard working. The most successful graduates of these programs are individuals who recognize early that what one gets out of the program is determined by what one puts into the program. Dedication, discipline, commitment and enthusiasm are expected of the resident throughout the year of training.

9. What advantages for employment does residency training provide? 

Many schools and colleges of optometry require residency training as a basic qualification for new clinical faculty positions. The Veterans Health Administration has always looked favorably at residency training as a prerequisite for employment at its hospitals and outpatient clinics. For those wishing to pursue employment opportunities with ophthalmology, or in multi-disciplinary practice settings, the value-added benefits of residency training are carefully considered by those potential employers whose backgrounds reflect the traditional medical model of training.

10. Why should I pursue a residency position in optometry? 

There are numerous advantages to honing one’s clinical skills in a residency setting. Typically, the residency program is located in a clinical setting catering to geriatric and or socio-economically disadvantaged patients providing numerous complex eye and systemic disorders. Optometry residents present in such settings often must provide higher order clinical decision making skills on a larger number of cases than would be possible in a direct care mode. Moreover, it is well established that the act of teaching students is an excellent form of learning. Also important, the lectures, seminars, and library work associated with residency training help residents develop good habits and encourage a life-long independent pursuit of learning.

11. How and when do I apply to a residency program? 

While the deadlines encountered for applying to residency programs differ slightly, most require that application materials be received by the sponsoring organization (to include the affiliated school or college of optometry) around the end of January. Records of school transcripts, national board examination results, and letters of recommendation are examples of the required application materials. Most programs require a face-to-face interview by all applicants. Programs use the Optometry Residency Match (ORMatch). The ranked choices of programs by applicants and applicants by program supervisors are due to ORMatch around the first week in March. Because of the application requirements and personal nature of the final selection, applicants are encouraged to begin speaking with prospective program supervisors as early as possible. Last minute scheduling difficulties for the interviews frequently occur. Applicants are encouraged to begin making inquiries about specific programs by late summer or early fall.

12. How can I find out more information about the residency programs that are available?

Several avenues are available to assist you. Whether you are interested in completing a residency in a particular discipline, or in a certain geographic area, you can begin your search through ASCO’s online residency directory on this website or via the residency director at your school or college. The ASCO online directory offers a comprehensive listing of optometric residency programs through customized searches. Also listed below are direct links to help you navigate your way through information available from the residency programs of the schools and colleges of optometry and the Optometry Residency Match (ORMatch).