Optical Assistant Career Info
Also referred to as optometry assistants or technicians, optical assistants help patients with their eyeglasses and contacts under the supervision of optometrists or ophthalmologists. During or after an appointment, assistants help fit eyeglasses by measuring patients' eyes and the bridges of their noses. They may also help individuals find the proper contact lenses for comfort and visibility. Any time eyeglasses need to be repaired, optical assistants make the necessary adjustments. Additional duties include appointment scheduling and gathering patient information.
Optical assistants should have strong customer service skills, manual dexterity, and familiarity with the Snellen eye chart, lens analyzers, and optical screwdrivers. In 2016, PayScale.com reported that optometry assistants earned a median annual salary of $29,031.
|Degree Level||High school diploma; assistants who hold a certificate or associate's degree may be preferred by employers|
|Degree Field||Optical technician, optical assistant|
|Certification||Voluntary certification is available|
|Key Skills||Strong customer service skills; manual dexterity; familiarity with Snellen eye chart, lens analyzers, optical screwdrivers, dial calipers|
|Salary (2014)||$34,280 yearly (median for all dispensing opticians)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); Monster.com job listings (September 2012), O*Net Online, School websites.
Step 1: Graduate High School
Earning a high school diploma or GED is the first step necessary to becoming an optical assistant. While courses specifically related to eye care aren't usually available, beneficial classes include mathematics, biology, chemistry, computer science and physics.
Step 2: Complete Training
While it's not required, prospective optical assistants can earn an optical assistant or technician certificate or associate's degree. Common topics in these postsecondary programs include eye anatomy, contact lens dispensing, medical terminology, spectacle design and human relations. Clinical experiences are included in some programs.
Participating in an internship or clinical experience while in school is a good way to gain hands-on experience in this field. Students can also hone their patient interaction skills.
Step 3: Get Certified
A few organizations offer voluntary certification in this field, including the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). In order to qualify for basic credentials through the ABO or the NCLE, applicants need to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma. Each organization also requires successful completion of an exam.
Step 4: Find a Job
While employment opportunities are available through optometrist offices, other locations that hire optical assistants include health and personal care stores and physicians' offices. Whether a newly hired optical assistant has just graduated from high school or completed a postsecondary program, he or she often needs to complete on-the-job training. In addition to obtaining sales and office management skills, trainees learn how to fit and repair the eyeglasses sold in an optometrist's office.
ABO and NCLE credentials are valid for three years. In order to renew these credentials, individuals must complete a certain number of approved continuing education credits. Optical assistants might also want to consider earning additional credentials. For instance, the Commission on Paraoptometric Certification offers the Certified Paraoptometric designation to individuals who have a high school diploma and at least six months of professional experience. Successful completion of an exam is required.
Optical assistants with enough education and experience can become opticians. In some states, assistants who've completed a state-approved postsecondary program and passed the ABO and NCLE certification exams qualify for optician licensure. Professional experience can often be substituted for education.
Once again, optical assistants should have a high school diploma and some training to work in the field, though taking postsecondary courses and obtaining certification can help in securing a position.