Royal College of Ophthalmologists, UK

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, founded in 1988, is an independent professional body and one of the Medical Royal Colleges. It regulates ophthalmology in the United Kingdom in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons ofEdinburgh (RCSEd) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG). They set the standards and examinations for medical doctors aiming to become ophthalmologists, and provide surgical skills training, as well as services to those who have completed their training.

Historically, treatments for eye diseases were the preserve of much itinerant charlatanry, such as ‘couching’, or displacement of dense cataract with a needle, which led to brief improvements but very high complications and blindness in more than 70%, although the Sushruta Samhita described improvements to this as far back as 800 BC. The return of many soldiers from Napoleonic campaigns suffering an epidemic of trachoma, however, spurred the foundation of Moorfields Eye Hospital in 1805 by surgeon John Cunningham Saunders, with encouragement from Astley Cooper.

The College sets and examines standards for training as an ophthalmologist in the UK and is the only College whose qualification leads to access to the GMC Specialist Register in Ophthalmology (CCST) and publishes the research journal Eye, part of the Nature Publishing Group. It also represents ophthalmologists working and training in the UK.

Fulfilling the requirements set by the College entitles doctors to the following post-nominal letters in increasing seniority:

  • Membership (MRCOphth)
  • Fellowship (FRCOphth)

Membership, once a prerequisite for fellowship, is becoming a separate qualification demonstrating core ophthalmological knowledge, as training in the UK has largely eliminated the SHO/registrar distinction in the field. Fellowship of the college (or its Scottish equivalents) is a necessary (but not sufficient) prerequisite for qualifying from training in the UK. It is also considered broadly equivalent to similar qualifications in the Commonwealth such as FRANZCO and the FRCSI (Ophth).

As a surgical speciality, and having originated as part of the Royal College of Surgeons, fellows generally take the title Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms, rather than Dr, although there are exceptions.

The college also offers the Certificate in Laser Refractive Surgery as an additional qualification, and the Duke-Elder Prize Examination, a yearly competitive examination for medical undergraduates in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

The president to 2017 was Carrie MacEwen, who has passed the role on to Michael Burdon

Sir William Bowman continues to be honoured by an eponymous lecture which is given every second year at the annual congress. The lecturer receives the Bowman medal, the most prestigious award offered by the College. Sir Stewart Duke-Elder has given his name to the Duke– Elder Undergraduate Prize Examination which takes place once a year in medical schools throughout the country.

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