April 1, 2024

Become an Optician: Education & Career Guide

A detailed primer on the education requirements, job responsibilities and certification options for opticians.

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Become an Optician: Education & Career Guide

Are you interested in working in a field that helps people to see clearly and also look their best? If so, you may want to consider becoming an optician. These health care professionals assist people as they select the eyeglasses and contact lenses that not only improve their vision, but also suit their lifestyle needs.

If that sounds like something you might like to do, you'll probably want some more information about the job. Here's what you need to know about how you can pursue a position in the field. This comprehensive guide explains how the job works, as well as the education and licensure you need to become an optician.

What Does an Optician Do?

Opticians are professionals who specialize in fitting, adjusting, and dispensing eyewear, including prescription glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. They work closely with optometrists and ophthalmologists by interpreting prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. With this information, they then explain to their patients what their options are, and guide them in choosing the most suitable eyewear for their specific needs.

It's important to note that opticians do not independently perform tests to determine a patient's prescription for corrective lenses. That part of the process is done with a supervising optometrist or ophthalmologist.

In addition to their technical expertise, opticians must possess excellent communication and customer service skills, because they're responsible for helping clients find the perfect fit, both in terms of vision correction and style preferences.

The job requires a range of skills and knowledge. Some of the primary responsibilities of an optician include:

  • Interpreting and analyzing optical prescriptions that are provided by optometrists or ophthalmologists
  • Assisting clients in selecting the most appropriate eyewear, including frames and lenses
  • Measuring clients' facial features, eye size, and bridge width to ensure a proper eyewear fit
  • Adjusting and repairing eyeglasses as needed
  • Explaining lens and frame options, pricing, and warranties to clients
  • Ordering and verifying the accuracy of completed eyewear upon delivery
  • Teaching clients how to properly wear, care for, and maintain their eyewear

Step One: Train to Become an Optician

To become an optician, you must first complete the necessary training and education. Unlike some health care professions, there are multiple ways you can get that done. There are three primary routes you can take to achieve this goal: obtaining an optician certificate, earning an associate degree in ophthalmic dispensing, or completing an apprenticeship.

Route 1: Optician Certificate

Many community colleges, vocational schools, and technical institutes offer optician certificate programs. These courses provide a solid foundation in optics, eye care, and customer service. A certificate program typically take less than a year to complete. During that time, they cover topics such as optical principles, lensometry, frame selection and fitting, ophthalmic laboratory procedures, and professional ethics.

This option is a quick and efficient way to gain the basic skills necessary to enter the profession, and it may serve as a stepping stone to further education.

Route 2: Associate Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing

An associate degree in ophthalmic dispensing provides a more comprehensive education in the field of opticianry. These two-year programs, which are available at community colleges and technical schools, delve deeper into the scientific principles underlying the profession. To round out the education, they often include hands-on practicums or internships to help students develop practical skills.

In addition to coursework, students are typically required to complete a certain number of hours of supervised clinical experience. Graduates of these programs are well-prepared to enter the workforce, as they have a strong foundation in both the theoretical and practical aspects of the profession.

Route 3: Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship provides an opportunity to learn the trade while working under the supervision of a licensed optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist. These paid on-the-job training programs may last for two to four years and they often include both theoretical instruction and extensive hands-on practice.

Apprenticeships may be offered through eyewear retailers, eyecare clinics, or professional organizations. As an apprentice, you will gain invaluable real-world experience and develop a thorough understanding of the day-to-day workings of an optician's job.

Step 2: Optician Certification and Licensure

Once you have completed the appropriate education and training, the next step is to obtain certification and licensure. In the United States, optician certification is a voluntary process offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). Passing the ABO and NCLE certification exams demonstrates your competence and knowledge in the field. It's a promising way to increase your credibility and employment prospects.

Although it's voluntary in some states, other states require opticians to be licensed in order to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state and may include a combination of education, training, examination, and continuing education credits. It is crucial to find out about the specific regulations in your state, so you can be sure that you meet all the necessary qualifications.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Difference Between an Optician, an Optometrist, and an Ophthalmologist?

While all three professionals work in the eye care industry, their roles and qualifications are distinct. Opticians specialize in fitting and dispensing eyewear; optometrists are healthcare professionals who examine, diagnose, and treat visual disorders; and ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of eye diseases and conditions, including surgery. Each profession requires different levels of education, training, and licensure.

How Much Do Opticians Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for opticians was $37,840 in May 2019. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $25,630, while the highest 10% of earners made more than $57,000.

Some of the factors that may influence an optician's salary include their level of experience, education, certification, and where they live.

What is the Job Outlook for Opticians?

Employment opportunities for opticians are projected to grow by 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is roughly equal to the average growth rate for all occupations. This growth is fueled by an aging population, an increased demand for eyewear, and advancements in eyewear technology.

What Skills do You Need to Work as an Optician?

Of course, to work as an optician, you will need to have a thorough understanding of the technical details of the job. On top of that, you will be working closely with patients, so you will also need to have excellent communication skills, the ability to help patients make decisions, adapt well to new techniques and equipment, and be well organized. You will also be dealing with and explaining insurance coverage.

The Bottom Line

Becoming an optician requires dedication, education, and skill development. Choosing the educational path that best suits your needs and obtaining the necessary certification and licensure will help you to embark on a rewarding career helping people improve their vision and love their glasses or contacts.

With continued experience and education, you may also pursue further opportunities in the eyecare industry, such as specializing in specific types of eyewear or advancing to managerial or business ownership roles.

If you think you would enjoy working as an optician, there are multiple paths you can take to get there. Get started today, and you will be helping people see and look their best soon

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Program outcomes may vary depending on each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guranteed.