What Is an Optician?
An optician is a specially trained professional that ensures that patients receive the best eyewear based on their comfort level and needs. They are trained to make and adjust contact lenses and eyeglasses according to the instructions issued by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
They usually work in an optometrist’s office, a retail eyewear store or an ophthalmologist’s office. Unlike an eye doctor, however, an optician is qualified to work after an associate’s degree program, which takes two years, or a certificate course, which takes only one.
What Does an Optician Do?
Some of their duties include:
- Receiving and analyzing a doctor’s instructions for creating eyeglasses and contact lenses
- Measuring features such as the distance between the eyes to ensure the client gets the best fit
- Helping clients select the lenses and frames that best suit them in terms of style, function and fit
- Coordinating with ophthalmic laboratory technicians to ensure patients receive the best care
- Adjusting eyewear to provide the best fit
- Fixing or replacing faulty glasses and contact lenses
- Teaching clients how to take care of their glasses. For instance, they show clients how to wipe their glasses without damaging them
- Performing administrative tasks such as tracking patient information, ordering and receiving inventory, and operating the telephone lines
- Preparing and submitting the appropriate documents for insurance claims
- Performing quality control reviews to ensure that the eyewear matches the prescription and the client’s preference
Steps To Becoming an Optician
While some employers may hire opticians with only a GED and provide on-the-job training, formal post-secondary education is required to obtain a license in some states.
Step 1: Completing high school
The most basic prerequisite for becoming an optician is to get your GED. Taking mathematics, biology and physics can help prepare you for a career in opticianry.
Step 2: Completing an internship
After completing high school, you can work under a professional optician and receive on-the-job instruction before joining a post-secondary program.
Step 3: Applying to a program
There are over 20 accredited opticianry programs in over 10 states. You can select any one of these programs and apply to join.
Step 4: Joining and completing a program
How Long Does It Take?
These programs usually take one year for a certificate program or two years for an associate’s degree program. The programs also feature theoretical and hands-on portions that teach students about the nuances of becoming an optician.
What Courses Do You Take?
The coursework includes classes in the functions and mechanics of an eye, running a business, mathematics and working with precision tools, amongst other subjects.
Works with Professionals
Students also get to do supervised work to ensure they understand what being an optician entails. They learn how the eye works, how to interpret prescriptions and work with precision tools.
Some institutions even allow students to learn remotely.
The National Academy of Opticianry offers the Ophthalmic Career Progression Program (OCPP) for people with an established career in opticianry. The OCPP offers a way for them to become certified even without a post-secondary education.
Step 5: Becoming licensed
Many U.S. states require opticians to obtain a license before opening a practice.
Each state has its own rules and regulations, but many states require that opticians complete a two-year apprenticeship program or graduate from an accredited institution.
Most states use the exams issued by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners to determine who gets an optician license.
On top of these exams, some states administer their own exams to determine who gets a license. To get accurate and relevant information on obtaining a license, you can check with your state’s opticianry licensing organization.
Step 6: Getting Certified
Earning state licensure also means getting certified because the ABO-NCLE exams usually act as certification exams and licensure requirements. You can decide to take and pass the test issued by ABO-NCLE, even if it is not required by law, to get certified and enhance your job prospects.
ABO-NCLE offers three different tiers of credentials. They have certifications for novice, intermediate and experienced opticians.
ABO-NCLE credentials usually last for three years, so you should renew your credentials before the three years are over.
How Much Does It Cost?
The average annual community college costs for opticianry certificate programs range from $600 to $5,400. Among the schools endorsed by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation, tuition ranges from $4,700 to $9,600 for residents taking a two-year associate’s degree program. Books and supplies vary according to school and amount to around $500 per year.
How Much Can You Make, on Average?
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that opticians make about $39,000 annually. However, the lowest-paid opticians earn approximately $26,000 per year, and the highest-paid opticians earn about $61,000.
The highest-paid opticians usually work in doctor’s offices. Opticians who work in retail stores get paid less and may have to work weekends.
The more experienced an optician is, the more they get paid. The pay is also dependent on the state you work in and the cost of living.
Optician salaries have been increasing in the past few years. Furthermore, full-time opticians usually have added benefits like paid time off, eyewear discounts, dental and health insurance and sick leave.
According to a report, the states with the highest optician pay are listed below. These are:
- New Jersey — $63,000
- Connecticut — $62,100
- Alaska — $57,500
- New York — $53,100
Personality Traits of an Optician
Here are some traits that a good optician should have to succeed in the field.
- Compassion: Above all, a good optician should have a genuine interest in the well-being of the patients.
- Friendliness: Opticians must be able to explain diagnoses to patients and relay any necessary information to nurses and doctors effectively.
- Patience: Dealing with clients can often be time-consuming and requires dedication and perseverance.
- Dependability: A good optician must be dependable since they are obligated to provide accurate information to patients, doctors and other parties.
- Detail-oriented: When dealing with a patient’s health, it is important to double-check and triple-check every minute detail.
- Respect: The best opticians are loved by their patients, doctors and other staff members. An optician should treat every person with respect, remembering that every team member is dedicated to giving patients the best care possible.
- Dexterity: Being an optician requires very good hand-eye coordination skills because the pieces you will work with are usually small, and it can be challenging to put them together.
- Business skills: If you have your own shop, you will be responsible for every aspect of running it. It would help if you understood how to run a business, and you should be good at making financial decisions.
- Communication skills: Opticians should be good listeners to understand what the customer wants. They should be able to explain instructions and information to customers so they can understand.
- Customer service skills: Opticians who work in a retail store should be able to answer questions about the products offered. They should be friendly, courteous and patient.
- Problem-solving Skills: No matter what profession you are in, it is a guarantee that problems will arise. An optician should be able to adapt and take swift action and correct the situation.
There is an expected increase in the need for opticians over the next several years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a job increase of 5% in the optician field over the next ten years.
Currently, there are over 73,800 working opticians, and this number is expected to grow to over 76,000 by 2030, with about 6,000 openings for optician positions projected for each year.
Careers Similar to an Optician
If you are interested in becoming an optician, there are other careers that you might want to consider as well.
Ophthalmic Assistant: An ophthalmic assistant works alongside an ophthalmologist to perform eye exams, diagnose clients and administer treatment. They usually review a patient’s charts and generate preliminary data to be used by the ophthalmologist.
An ophthalmic assistant can earn anywhere from $34,000 to $38,000 per hour.
Optometric Technician: An optometric technician performs various tasks, such as creating lenses, performing eye tests, preparing exam areas and performing administrative tasks.
Optometric technicians earn anywhere from $33000 to $45000 per year.
Optometrist: An optometrist is a professional who has obtained an optometry degree. They examine all the eye parts and diagnose any injuries, diseases or disorders, and they prescribe solutions such as eyewear or eye drops.
An optometrist earns anywhere from $134,000 to $175,000.
Ophthalmologist: Ophthalmologists are medical professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating.
Optometrists are not doctors, but they can diagnose and treat many vision problems and prescribe some medication. On the other hand, an ophthalmologist is a doctor who can diagnose and treat all eye problems.
An ophthalmologist can also perform eye surgery and provide follow-up treatment. The average salary of an ophthalmologist is approximately $158,000.
More Information on Opticianry
You can visit the following websites to get more information about becoming an optician:
- American Optometric Association
- American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE)
- Commission on Opticianry Accreditation
- Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry
- National Optometric Association