Requirements for Certification

Application Criteria

To officially become a candidate for board certification, applicants must meet all of the requirements outlined in the three categories below. The ABO's Board Eligibility Policy provides approved applicants with up to seven years from completion of residency training to successfully complete the board certification process.

I. Appropriate Medical Education & Ophthalmic Training

Medical School

A degree from an accredited allopathic or osteopathic medical school in the United States or Canada is required. Applicants who are graduates of International Medical Schools are required to have a certificate from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).


Prior to the start of residency training, applicants must have completed a post-graduate clinical year (PGY-1) in an accredited program in the United States or Canada. During the PGY-1 year, the applicant must have had primary responsibility for patient care in the fields of emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, or surgery. For programs in the United States using an integrated or joint preliminary year/ophthalmology format, the PGY-1 year must comprise nine months of broad experience in direct patient care in diverse settings along with three months of experience in ophthalmology.

Accredited Residency Training

In addition to a PGY-1 year, applicants must satisfactorily complete an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-approved ophthalmology residency training program of at least 36 months duration (PGY-4 or higher) or, if in Canada, at least 48 months duration (PGY-5 or higher) and accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Leaves of absence for vacation, medical issues, parental leave, or other personal reasons are essential for resident well-being and may be granted at the discretion of the institution’s department chair and/or residency program director. Residency training in ophthalmology traditionally comprises 48 months following graduation from medical school, including a 12-month internship and at least 36 months of ACGME-accredited ophthalmology training. The ABO requires that a satisfactory rating be confirmed by the residency program for every candidate in each of the ACGME competencies. Depending on the length of absence or the inability to accomplish residency educational goals during the traditional period, the required time for graduate medical education may be extended accordingly. Residency program leadership and the institutional graduate medical education offices, not the ABO, determine the need for any extension of residency training and the ultimate completion date for each resident. However, less than six months of training at any PGY level is not acceptable for board certification.

The ABO also recognizes that many licensed, qualified ophthalmologists who practice in the United States were trained elsewhere and has developed a certification pathway for internationally trained ophthalmologists (ITOs).

Verification of Training Documentation

  • Interim Evaluation Form for transferring residents: When a resident's training has been gained in more than one residency program, an Interim Evaluation must be completed by the first program. The first program may not be able to verify all competencies. It is the responsibility of the second program to obtain the Interim Evaluation from the first program. The second program, in its Satisfactory Completion document, must evaluate all competencies, taking into account any deficiencies noted in the Interim Evaluation by the preceding program(s). Click here to download the Interim Evaluation form.
  • Satisfactory Completion of Residency Training documentation: Upon application for certification, the ABO verifies satisfactory completion of all training requirements. Only applicants who have completed their PGY-1 and entire ophthalmology training program, PGY-4 (for US Programs) or PGY-5 (for Canadian Programs) or higher by the registration deadline may sit for the written examination.
  • Verification of Training form: Programs submit this documentation directly to the ABO on behalf of each applicant. If a program is disapproved or withdrawn during the course of a resident's training, he/she must complete the remaining required number of months of training in another accredited program.

II. Valid, Unrestricted Medical License

Applicants must hold a valid and unrestricted license(s) to practice medicine in the United States, its territories or Canadian province in which the applicant's practice of medicine is regularly conducted and in each other place in which the person practices or has practiced medicine and has an unexpired license. Applicants must notify the Board of any action taken by a state medical licensing board within 60 days of such action.  

III. Signing the Practice Pledge

Applicants must agree to a pledge upon application stating their commitment to provide ophthalmic services with compassion, respect for human dignity, and integrity.

Examination Requirements

Candidates for board certification embark on a two-step certification process. This process requires demonstrating a sufficient level of knowledge on both a written examination and an oral examination. Candidates who register for the first available examination and pass each one on the first attempt can obtain board certification in as little as nine months after residency graduation; however, the ABO's Board Eligibility Policy provides candidates with up to seven years to complete board certification under the status of "Board Eligible."

Step 1: Written Qualifying Examination

Candidates begin the certification process by completing a 250-multiple-choice-question examination known as the Written Qualifying Examination (WQE). This examination is administered at computer-based testing centers around the country on one day each year. Passing the written examination allows a candidate to progress to the Oral Examination, which tests clinical abilities.

Step 2: Oral Examination

Candidates who pass the WQE are invited to take the Oral Examination. Presently administered online, the Oral Examination is a unique face-to-face examination where candidates are asked to apply their ophthalmic knowledge and training by explaining how they would care for patients in various clinical scenarios. Upon passing the Oral Examination, candidates officially become diplomates of the ABO and receive a 10-year, time-limited certificate.