An optician is a vision care professional who helps patients to be properly fitted with new contact lenses and eyeglasses, after obtaining prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists. Opticians also assist customers to decide which contact lenses or eyeglass frames to purchase.
If you want to work in the vision care field and have excellent technical and customer service skills, an optician career could be a good choice.
Some of the duties of opticians are:
- Receive prescriptions from customers for contact lenses or eyeglasses
- Measure the faces and eyes of customers, including the distance between pupils. This is very important to ensure proper fit of eyeglasses
- Assist customers in choosing eyeglass frames and lenses. Specific customers may need special eyewear for sports, occupational use, or various tints and anti-reflective coatings.
- Write work orders for laboratory techs and provide them with the information needed to make new lenses
- Work with customers to ensure that eyeglasses fit properly
- Repair and replace eyeglass frames as needed
- Provide education to customers about their eyewear; show customers how to take care of their contact lenses
- Handle various administrative business tasks, such as keeping track of prescriptions and ordering and maintaining vision center inventory
After several years of experience, some opticians may move into store management. In that role, you may do the following:
- Recruit new staff and managing training and/or professional development
- Handle the day-to-day management of the vision care practice
- Oversee the planning and administration of business development, including all marketing and accounting activities
- Maintain accurate business and patient records
How to Become
Opticians must have either a high school diploma or GED. Some employers will provide high school graduates with on the job training. This will include teaching the worker how to measure the eyes of each customer, or how to adjust frames for a good fit. Trainees also learn basic sales and office management skills. Many who are trained on the job will also complete a two year apprenticeship.
Also, many opticians today earn either a two-year associate’s degree or one-year certificate in opticianry. It is recommended that you choose a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation.
Education in these programs includes both classroom instruction and clinical experiences. Coursework in opticianry programs will include optics, eye physiology, mathematics, administration and business management.
Students in associate’s degree and certificate programs also have periods of supervised clinical work. There they receive hands-on experience working as real opticians; they learn about optical mathematics, optical physics and how to use precision eye measuring instruments. Some programs may have distance learning opportunities for the coursework, but you will be required to do clinical work in the field.
Licensing and Certification
Approximately 50% of states require opticians to get a license. Licensure requires them to complete formal education via an approved program; you also may complete a supervised internship or apprenticeship in your place of employment.
Opticians who have completed their training also must pass an examination to receive their license. It is recommended to consult with the opticianry licensing board in your state to provide you with information on licensing requirements.
Becoming certified as an optician in either eyeglass dispensing or contact lens dispensing can enhance your career options. Certification requires you to pass examinations from the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners.
Most state licensing boards use these examinations as the basis for receiving an optician’s license in that state. Some states may also have their own practical examination.
Opticians are required to renew their license every 12-36 months and must complete CE (continuing education) requirements to stay licensed.
It is recommended that opticians attain their ABO or NCLE certification; such certification is recognized by employers as a clear standard of skill and competence.
Getting your ABO or NCLE certification can lead to a higher salary and more job opportunities.
A recent employer survey found:
- 28% of employers required certification by their opticians
- 75% gave a preference to hiring certified opticians
- 75% paid a higher starting salary to certified opticians
- 40% gave preference for promotions to certified workers
- After 10 years, certified opticians earn $6000 more per year on average
Optician employment in the future is looking very bright. Employment is projected to increase by an impressive 24% by 2024, which is much faster than average.
Growth in the optician field is being caused by the gradual aging process of the US population. Americans are living longer than ever, with some living well into their 80s. Older people tend to have more vision problems, so the need for skilled workers in this field is likely to increase with the large numbers of elderly.
Elderly Americans also have a higher rate of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which is caused partially by obesity. Higher rates of these diseases can lead to more demand for opticians because some chronic illnesses cause eye problems. Opticians also will be needed to fill prescriptions for corrective eyewear for those with conditions that have damaged their eyesight.
A good place to find optician jobs today is in group medical practices. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are now offering more contact lens and eyeglass services to their customers. This provides them with a new way to generate revenue. Thus there will be more need for opticians in these work environments.
While most opticians work in such medical practices, there are other options available. Some in this profession choose to work in a large retail chain, while others may prefer working in a small medical practice. In such a setting, you might need to perform more tasks that are medically oriented. In a retail store, good customer interaction and sales skills are probably very important.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median wage for opticians was $35,500 in May 2016. The top 10% earned a salary of $57,180. Note however that the median salary for opticians will vary on the place of employment:
- Doctor’s office: $38,400
- Health or personal care store: $36,600
- Optometrist office: $34,000
- Department store: $30,600
A career as an optician provides you with a solid salary and good career potential. This can be an attractive option for many workers because the required education to enter the field is no more than two years and may be as little as six months to a year for some employers.
Future job growth for opticians looks very strong, and there should be ample opportunity for promotion.
- Dispensing Opticians. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/opticians-dispensing.htm#tab-5
- 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