An optician or optometric technician helps customers to be fitted properly with contact lenses and eyeglasses, after the ophthalmologist or optometrist issues the new prescription. Opticians and optometric technicians also help customers to choose which eyeglass frames or contacts to purchase.
How to Become an Optician
Opticians and optometric technicians have either a high school diploma or GED and on the job training. An increasing number of opticians enter the field with a one-year certificate or a two-year associate’s degree in opticianry.
If the worker just receives on the job training, this will include how to accurately measure the eyes of the customer, or how to adjust frames under the guidance of experienced opticians. Trainees also learn office management and sales skills. Some opticians who are trained on the job complete an internship or apprenticeship; this will usually take up to two years.
Others receive an official education at a technical school or community college. As noted above, these optician training programs are either a one-year certificate or two-year associate’s degree program.
For example, Baker College offers an online optician associate’s degree program with the following goals:
- Provide the student optician with the skills to interpret prescriptions, create eyewear, dispense glasses and contact lenses effectively, communicate well with customers, use sale skills and be able to generally serve the visual needs of the public.
- Stimulate the growth and development of the student into a competent, skilled and ethical optician professional who is able to maintain high standards and work effectively with others in the field
- Prepare students to sit for the National Opticianry Competency Examination, which is given by the ABO; or to sit for the Contact Lens Registry Examination that is given by the NCLE.
Required courses include the following:
- Ocular Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology
- Optical Laboratory Theory
- Optical Theory I
- Optical Theory II
- Optical Dispensing I Theory
- Optical Dispensing II Theory
- Ophthalmic Procedures
- Introduction to Contact Lenses
- Contact Lenses
- Opticianry Management
- Current Trends in Opticianry
Licensing and Certification
After you have completed your optician education, you need to earn your license to practice. Some states have their own state-specific examinations for prospective opticians. However, most states use the examinations offered for optician certification as their state examinations that are offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE).
These examinations consist of 125 questions. Both tests have been described as difficult. Experts say that opticians with at least two or three years of experience, or have completed an educational program, have higher pass rates.
The ABO examination covers subjects such as analyzing and interpreting prescriptions; fitting and dispensing eyeglasses and related devices; and using standard ophthalmic equipment.
The NCLE examination covers prefit of glasses; preparation and evaluation; final diagnostic fit and evaluation; patient education and delivery; follow up and various administrative issues.
After you have passed these examinations, you will be issued certificates to show that you have met the highest competency standards in the industry. You must renew the certificate every three years by completing continuing education requirements.
Advantages of Certification
Certification is effectively required in states where the licensing board uses the ABO and NCLE exams as their licensure tests. But even if you have the ability to work as an optician without being certified, experience shows that certification will benefit your career in several ways:
Certification by the ABO or NCLE shows the public, your employer, and colleagues that you are a competent and qualified optician. It also proves that you take a great deal of pride in the profession and are dedicated to maintaining your knowledge and skills.
It also shows the public that you are an optician who will handle their vision care needs with professionalism and care.
Better Job Opportunities and Salary
Certification by the ABO and NCLE has shown over time to be advantageous for career progression and high salaries. A recent employer survey found the following:
- 28% of employers require their opticians to be certified
- 75% preferred to hire certified opticians
- 75% gave higher salaries to certified opticians
- 40% gave preference for job promotions to certified workers
- After a decade of work experience, certified employees typically earn $6000 more per year
ABO and NCLE certification are nationally recognized, rather than just issued by one state. These certifications are recognized across the US and in many foreign countries. Also, in states where there is no optician license required, certification is your only professional credential.
It also is interesting to note that 90% of state opticianry licensing boards use the ABO and NCLE examinations as the basis for issuing a state license
23% of states that issue licenses in opticianry mandate ABO or NCLE certification for people who move to the state and apply for licensing
Importance of Certification in the Future
Vision care experts think that managed care is the future of the American health care system. ABO or NCLE certification will play an important role to determine who will be accepted as a future care provider. Without this important certification, you may have trouble finding work.
The job & salary outlook for certified opticians is excellent: There will be a 24% rise in job demand in the field by 2024. This is occurring because of the rapid growth in the elderly population.
Baby boomers are entering retirement, and older Americans are more likely to have vision problems. Most older people will have eyeglass and contact lens prescription changes over time. Also, there are more serious diseases among the elderly that affect the eye, such as diabetes.
It is expected that opticians who hold certification will be able to find ample employment by working either in group medical practices or retail facilities.
Becoming an optician today is a solid career move because of the strong job demand for the next decade. It also is a good profession to consider because entering the field only requires – at most – two years of formal education.
- Why Be Certified? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.abo-ncle.org/ABO/Certification/Why_Be_Certified/ABO/WhyCertify/WhyCertify.aspx?hkey=a966a1f9-ddce-47a1-bd72-b9e0bb52cdf7
- Dispensing Opticians. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/opticians-dispensing.htm#tab-4
- Baker College. Opticianry Associate’s Degree. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.baker.edu/programs-degrees/health-sciences/opticianry/#programgoals