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Optician Career Information and Job Description

Optician Career and Job Highlights

  • Because of the small size of the profession, relatively few jobs will be available.
  • Increased desire for glasses and fashion frames will fuel job growth.
  • Almost half of all States require a license to practice. Most receive on-the-job training by working hands-on for 2 years or more.

Optician Career Information and Job Description

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 clients’ 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.

Optician Training and Job Qualifications

No background as an optician is required to be hired as one, though those with experience as ophthalmic laboratory technicians will also be hired. The hiring organization provides the new hires with at least 2 years of on the job training in the form of apprenticeships. Postsecondary education in a relevant field is required by some employers.

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. On the job training comprises information about mechanical equipment, optical math, and optical physics. Good interpersonal communication skills are important because dispensing opticians work everyday with clients and customers. 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 postsecondary training to become licensed. Apprenticeships are offered in the majority of States, along with formal training 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.

Some programs offered in for dispensing opticians last one year or less. 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 recertify. Dispensing opticians in States that require CE for relicensing 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 store hire experienced opticians as sales representatives or managers. Many dispensing opticians start their own optical businesses after gaining some job experience.

Optician Job and Employment Opportunities

Spurred by the increasing demand for glasses and contact lenses, job growth should be as good as average for dispensing opticians through 2012. The demographic of middle age and elderly people is expected to grow rapidly, creating more demand by new corrective lens users and those that require regular vision care.

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 are encouraged 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.

Historical Earnings Information

Dispensing opticians were paid a median of $25,600 in 2002. The 25th and 75th percentiles earned $19,960 and $33,530 respectively. The lowest 10 percent were paid less than $16,310, while the highest 10 percent earned greater than $43,490.