Teaching of ophthalmology at Otago has a long and distinguished history. The third Dean of Otago Medical School, Professor Lindo Ferguson, was an ophthalmologist. He began at Dunedin Hospital in 1884 and was appointed lecturer in diseases of the eye at the University of Otago in 1886 and professor in 1909. He went on to become Dean in 1914 and continued to teach ophthalmology until his retirement in 1937. Shortly thereafter he was succeeded by Professor Rowland Wilson who had distinguished himself with his research into trachoma and been professor of ophthalmology at the Medical School in Cairo. Professor Wilson established the Department of Ophthalmology at Otago University shortly after the war, it being the first such department in New Zealand and Australia.
Professor Wilson was succeeded by John Parr who had returned to New Zealand in 1952 when he took up a part-time position as an ophthalmic surgeon to Dunedin Hospital and a lecturer in clinical ophthalmology to the University Medical School. He became a full-time senior lecturer in ophthalmology in 1961 and in 1977 was awarded a personal chair in ophthalmology. He continued the tradition of undergraduate ophthalmology teaching begun by Lindo Ferguson and developed it considerably. Dunedin continues to boast one of the strongest undergraduate ophthalmology programmes in the world due largely to Professor Parr's leadership. This in no small measure contributed to by the success of Professor Parr's textbook "Introduction to Ophthalmology" (University of Otago Press), which is still regarded as one of the pre-eminent undergraduate ophthalmology textbooks and is now into its third edition.
In 1977 John Parr appointed Anthony Molteno as a senior lecturer. On his retirement in 1986, Anthony Molteno was appointed Associate Professor and Head of Department in 1987, being appointed as Professor in 2002.
In 1998 following a restructuring of the Medical School, ophthalmology was subsumed into the Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences and became known as the Ophthalmology Section. In a further restructuring in February 2011 Ophthalmology elected to become part of the Department of Medicine.