How to Become an Optician

Learn how to become an optician. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in the optics field.

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  • 0:03 Should I Become an Optician?
  • 0:36 Career Requirements
  • 1:18 Steps to Become an Optician

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Should I Become an Optician?

An optician is an eye care professional who dispenses prescription glasses or contact lenses to improve patients' vision. While optometrists or ophthalmologists are the medical doctors who perform medical tests and write prescriptions, an optician makes eyeglass adjustments, educates patients about eyewear and takes measurements of patients' eyes to fit the lenses. Those who work in chain stores or other large retail establishments may need to work weekends and evenings.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma minimum; postsecondary certificate and associate's degree programs available
Degree Field Opticianry; Vision Care Technology; Vision Science
Training On-the-job training and apprenticeships available
Licensure and Certification Licensure required in most states; voluntary certification available
Key Skills Communication, manual dexterity, customer service, decision-making and business skills
Salary $34,840 per year (2015 median salary for all opticians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Curriculum Information from Optician Programs

Steps to Become an Optician

Let's find out what steps you'll need to take to become an optician:

Step 1: Earn a Certificate or Associate's Degree

While some optometry offices may hire opticians with a high school diploma and provide on-the-job training, formal postsecondary education may be necessary for licensure in some states. Both associate's degree and certificate programs combine classes, laboratory work and practical training. Examples of classes include optics principles, ocular anatomy, lab procedures, contact lenses, ophthalmic dispensing and ophthalmic materials.

Success Tips:

  • Develop practical skills through clinical experiences. At the associate's degree level, and in some yearlong certificate programs, participating in clinical experiences under the supervision of a seasoned optician offers the chance to gain practical skills in a school's on-site dispensary.
  • Develop communication and customer service skills. Opticians must explain instructions and eyewear options to patients, so the ability to communicate clearly is important.

Step 2: Complete an Apprenticeship

Participating in an apprenticeship may be an option for prospective opticians in some states. Apprenticeships typically last for two years. In some states, such as Massachusetts for example, an apprentice must complete a minimum of 6,000 hours of work within a 3-year period.

Step 3: Attain State Licensure

Nearly half of all U.S. states require licensure for opticians. The opticianry licensing board in each respective state sets the requirements for licensure. Almost all licensing boards use the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) certification exams as part of the licensure process, sometimes along with a state practical exam.

To be eligible for the licensing exam, prospective opticians usually must graduate form an approved training program or complete an apprenticeship. Licensed opticians may be required to complete a set of continuing education hours per year or every two years to remain licensed.

Step 4: Earn Certifications

Although certification is voluntary, going through the licensure process can serve the dual purpose of becoming both licensed and certified. This is possible since most states use the ABO and NCLE certification exam as a means to become licensed. Even in states that don't require licensure, opticians may consider earning the basic and advanced certifications offered through the ABO for glasses and NCLE for contact lenses.

To sit for the basic exam, applicants typically need to be 18 or older. The advanced certification requires individuals to hold several years of experience and have advanced education.

Success Tip:

  • Accrue education or experience. Although only a high school diploma or GED is required for certain certifications, the ABO and NCLE indicates that candidates with 2-3 years of experience or formal education generally fare better on the certification exam.

To become an optician, you'll need some training or education and must meet any state licensing requirements.

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