Finding an Academic Retina Job

Many factors go into the decision to pursue academics.

By Daniel Chao, MD, PhD; Jayanth Sridhar, MD; and Eric Nudleman, MD, PhD

Congratulations! You have matched into a vitreoretinal fellowship. Things are looking up. Retina is a fantastically satisfying profession with myriad job opportunities. In this article, we discuss considerations for finding an academic retina position.


The first step is to determine whether academia is really where you want to be. It is important to consider deeply and honestly whether you are interested in pursuing the academic route. You no longer need to say you are interested in academics or research in order to get a fellowship or job. Do you love to be in an academic environment with residents and fellows? Are you really interested in basic, translational, or clinical research? Is the academic job the best opportunity in a geographically desirable area?

Think carefully, as many features of academia can be found in retina private practice these days, including clinical research and the training of fellows and residents. There may be a substantial compensation difference between academics and private practice, especially in comparison with the reimbursement of a private practice partner. Make sure your motivations and passions are aligned with your decision. Once you decide that, academic retina can be a very rewarding career.


One of the advantages of academia versus private practice is increased flexibility and variety of work in your schedule beyond clinical care. Determine what your “dream job” would look like. Would it be 3 days in the clinic, 1 day in the OR, and 1 day of academic time? Would you like to spend 50% or 75% of your time starting your own research program or laboratory? Would you like to spend 50% of the time teaching?

Knowing your ideal job will help you evaluate whether the positions that are available fit your dream. Remember, there is no free lunch in academics. If you will not be generating your salary from clinical revenue, it must be generated either through research grants, endowed funds, teaching, or other methods. It is important to clarify how your nonclinical activities will be financially supported in the department.


After you decide you are interested in pursuing academic jobs, we recommend e-mailing chairs of ophthalmology departments where you may be interested in working, either because of your academic interests or the department’s geographic location. These e-mails should include a brief background, your career interests, the type of position you are seeking, and your curriculum vitae.

Flavors of Academic Positions

It is never too early to send out feelers for academic positions. We recommend reaching out toward the middle to end of your first year of fellowship. Academic positions generally come in three flavors:

Clinician: Duties are primarily clinical, and usually 1 day per week is reserved for administrative or research duties.

Clinician-scientist: These are active clinicians focused on starting their own research programs, usually spending 40% or more on research activities.

Clinician-educator: These are clinicians who see their own patients but also play a substantial role in teaching residents and/or fellows.

We have found that most chairs are quite responsive to these e-mails. One can also look for posted jobs on the websites of the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, or the American Society of Retina Specialists, However, many academic opportunities may exist that are not advertised.


It has been said, “Once you have seen one academic department, you have seen one academic department.” Each department is different in culture, size, opportunity for research, and compensation structure. At an interview, you will usually be asked to give a talk at grand rounds, on either your own research interests or a topic of clinical interest, and then meet with faculty throughout the day. Be yourself during the day, and imagine how you would fit in with the department.

Generally, the factors that are negotiable include salary, schedule, and research time or startup funds. Your salary may be protected for a certain period of time, after which you will have to generate your salary through clinical revenue or research grants. Some institutions have standardized packages for new faculty, which are determined at a higher institutional level over which the department chair has little control. Speaking to previous hires in the department can give you insights into what elements are negotiable.


If you are considering spending a significant amount of time developing a research program, ensuring protected research time is a must. One usually does this by applying for National Institutes of Health K08 or K23 grants.1 These are 5-year, mentored career development awards in laboratory or clinical research that pay a portion of your salary to give you protected research time. An important area to negotiate is how much protected research time the department will give you until you receive one of these awards. Some ophthalmology departments have National Institutes of Health institutional K12 grants that give you protected time for a few years.

Finding a research mentor is crucial to the success of a clinician-scientist. If you want to pursue this path, we recommend defining the area of research that interests you and then, while interviewing at departments, simultaneously contacting and identifying prospective research mentors at these institutions.


As with all job decisions, there are many factors to weigh when choosing an academic route, including the professional opportunities, the colleagues that you will work with, compensation, research money, and geography. Only you can decide how to weigh them. Rely on your network of peers and mentors to thoroughly investigate each job opportunity. Some of the best resources can be individuals who have applied for academic jobs in recent job cycles. n

1. Mentored Career Development Awards. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Accessed April 15, 2016.

Daniel Chao, MD, PhD
• assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology, Shiley Eye Institute,
University of California, San Diego

Jayanth Sridhar, MD
• assistant professor of ophthalmology, Bascom Palmer Eye
Institute, University of Miami

Eric Nudleman, MD, PhD
• assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology, Shiley Eye Institute,
University of California, San Diego


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About New Retina MD

New Retina MD delivers cutting-edge content to retina specialists in their first 15 years of practice. Each issue provides fresh insight from younger physicians plus established mentors on clinical and nonclinical issues affecting ophthalmologists in the earlier stages of their careers. NRMD features surgical pearls, clinical research endeavors, practice management, medical reimbursement and policy, continuing educational requirements, financial planning, innovations, and more.