Optician Career and Job Highlights
The demand for qualified opticians, particularly in licensed states where laws stipulate that a licensed optician must be on staff during all hours of operation, has continued to be on the increase, due to both the growth and interest in fashion eyewear, and the aging of the population. The US Bureau of Labor and Statisics has called the growth of the job market for Opticians "much faster than average" between 2010 and 2020. Almost half of all States require a license to practice opticianry. While most opticians receive on-the-job training by working hands-on for 2 years or more, stricter licensing requirements have resulted in apprentice and student opticians seeking educational paths involving more formalized and structured forms of opticianry education.
Massachusetts offers, through the Benjamin Franklin Institute in Boston, a two-year degree program in Opticianry. The state also offers an Apprentice Optician program through the MA Department of Labor- Division for Apprenticeship Training. The apprenticeship program is a minimum three-year, 6,000 hour program.
In order to become a MA Licensed Optician, candidates must complete either the two-year degree or the three-year apprenticeship, be certified by the American Board of Opticianry in Ophthalmic Dispensing, be certified by the National Contact Lens Examiners in Contact Lens Dispensing and achieve a passing score on the Massachusetts State Practical Exam.
Dispensing opticians in the US were paid a median of $32,940 in 2010. The highest paid opticians were in MA, CT, RI and NY.
Using the prescriptions ophthalmologists and optometrists write for their patients, dispensing opticians make glasses and contacts. The prescription designates the specifications of the lenses to be used in the glasses or contacts. Opticians gather information from the patient—such as what they will be use the glasses for, level of activity, and facial features—and make recommendations to the patient using the prescription about which type of frames and lenses would be best for them. Additional duties include taking measurements of the patient's eyes, such as the distance from the lens to the eye surface, or how far it is from pupil to pupil. A lensometer can be used to take measurements for clients who do not have a prescription. Opticians may also look up the clients’ records or verify information with the clients’ eye doctors.
The lenses are ground and put into the chosen frames by ophthalmic laboratory technicians based on orders placed by opticians, though some opticians do the grinding and placing themselves. Attention is paid to the style, color, and shape of the frames the client chose, as well as any special coatings that should be placed on the lenses. Opticians are responsible for verifying that the completed glasses meet all the specifications. They fit the glasses to the client’s face, bending the frames to ensure they fit just like the client desires. Opticians help new eyeglass wearers adjust to a new lifestyle with glasses; others repair broken frames or lenses.
Specialties in false eyes, contact lenses, or cosmetic fittings to cover eye imperfections are available to dispensing opticians. Those who specialize in contact lenses must take careful measurements of a client’s eyes, recording the measurements, prescription, and other lens specifications to place on the work order. Fitting the contact lens properly to the client’s eyes is a lengthy process that requires patience and exactness. Using tools and microscopes, the optician makes observations of the client’s eyes and surrounding parts to ensure that the lenses will fit correctly and comfortably.
Day to day duties include record keeping, accounting, inventory, sales, work order placement, and customer service.
Only licensed opticians are allowed to fit and dispense prescription eyewear and contact lenses. Apprentice opticians and opticianry students may fit and dispense under the direct supervision of a licensed optician.
Due to the nature of the work, educational experience in mathematics like geometry and algebra, physics, anatomy (particularly of the eye), and drawing are valuable. Clinical training comprises information about mechanical equipment, optical math, and optical physics. Good interpersonal communication skills are important because dispensing opticians work everyday with patients. Attention to detail and good manual dexterity are valuable assets as well.
There are currently 21 states that require dispensing opticians to be licensed; completion of a 2- to 4-year apprenticeship is required of those with no formal post secondary training to become licensed. Apprenticeships are offered in the majority of States, along with formal Associate Degree programs as well. Larger employers will often have formal training programs established prior to the hire of new dispensing opticians. Smaller employers provide a more informal, hands-on training experience. The best way to find out about relevant licensing requirements is to contact the State in which you wish to be employed. Training at any level involves skill development with the equipment to be used, as well as sales and office management proficiency. New dispensing opticians are trained by experienced opticians or by an optometrist or ophthalmologist themselves.
The Commission on Opticianry Accreditation approved 22 two-year associate degree programs in 2002. Depending on the State, graduates from these programs can take the licensing after up to one year of experience or even right after graduation.
The American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) are two organizations that grant certification to dispensing opticians. By taking continuing education (CE) courses, certified opticians can re certify. Dispensing opticians in States that require CE for re licensing can use their State license to recertify with the ABO. The same applies for recertification with the NCLE when the State required contact lens education as part of the relicensing requirements.
Eyeglass and contact lens manufacturers and stores hire experienced opticians as sales representatives or managers. Many dispensing opticians start their own optical businesses after gaining some job experience.
Fashion also lends itself to creating more demand for dispensing opticians. Due to the wide variety of styles, colors, and features now available with glasses, customers often want to buy more than one pair. Likewise, technological developments like lineless bifocals, no glare lenses, and disposable contact lenses will increase the demand for dispensing opticians’ services.
Some replacement needs will come up as current opticians leave the industry permanently; however, the relatively small size of the profession will limit openings. Because the purchase of eyeglasses and contacts is sometimes viewed as discretionary, the profession is adversely affected by economic recessions.