Optometric technicians, also known as vision care technicians, assist optometrists by dispensing contact lenses and repairing or modifying eyeglass frames. Students interested in a career as an optometric technician typically earn an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree in optometric technology or vision care technology, although some schools offer a diploma in optometric technician studies. Online courses and programs are available in some schools.
Diploma in Optometric Technology
The technical diploma program in optometric technology is a 1-year program that includes technical training in optometric terminology, ocular anatomy and patient pre-testing skills, as well as clinical experience, which includes working directly with doctors and patients. A high school diploma or its equivalent is usually required for admission, as well as a physical exam and CPR certification. At some schools, employment or another type of affiliation with an eye care provider is also required.
The curriculum focuses on the unique duties of an optometric technician in providing eye care to patients. Course subjects include:
- Optical dispensing
- Ophthalmic pre-testing
- Clinical ophthalmic procedures
- Ophthalmic specialty testing
- Contact lenses
Associate's Degree in Optometric Technology
The associate's degree program in optometric technology or vision care technology is a 2-year program that provides students with the laboratory, clinical and business skills needed to work as an optometric technician. Students are also prepared to meet the licensing requirements of the state where the school is located. General education courses in the sciences and humanities are also part of the curriculum, and these credits can typically transferred if a student wishes to pursue a bachelor's degree. There are no specific prerequisites other than a high school diploma or equivalent, although good math skills increase a student's chance for success in this degree program.
The first year of an optometric technology degree program is typically devoted to classroom instruction in science topics and laboratory techniques, while the second year emphasizes clinical experience. Course subjects include:
- Anatomy and physiology of the eye
- Basic optics
- Ophthalmic dispensing
- Ophthalmic lens surfacing and optics
- Principles of refraction
Graduates of a diploma program in optometric technology are prepared to work for eye care providers in jobs such as the following:
- Ophthalmic assistant
- Dispensing optician
- Contact lens technician
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) projected that medical assistants, including optometric technicians, would experience a job growth of 23% from 2014 to 2024 due to higher demand for healthcare services in general.
Graduates from diploma or associate's programs are also eligible to sit for the certification exams offered by the American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners ( www.abo-ncle.org). Optometric technicians who wish to become full-fledged optometrists or ophthalmologists must earn a bachelor's degree in optometry or a related field and a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree or a Medical Doctor (MD) degree in ophthalmology.
Aspiring optometric technicians usually earn associate's degrees, but there are diploma programs out there as well. Students who complete one of these programs have the opportunity to pursue entry-level employment, sit for professional certification exams or obtain more education.