How To Become An Optician
Career Video: Optician
If you want to help people with vision problems by guiding them in selecting the most appropriate eyeglass frames and lenses, a career as a dispensing optician may be right up your alley. In this profession, you will help clients determine the best eyewear to buy following the prescription of ophthalmologists and optometrists. You will help customers in determining which lens treatment would fit them depending on their needs and style. You will also make eye measurements on the client and adjust eyewear for a good fit. You will repair or replace damaged eyeglass frames and provide ophthalmic laboratory technicians with work orders. You also teach clients about how to care for their eyewear, keep track of their prescriptions and do other related business tasks.
Since you will often be in charge of the business operations of an optical store, you need to be comfortable about sales and inventories. You should also know your product very well so that you can provide customers with answers to their questions and ensure the best customer service. As such, having excellent communications skills would certainly help you gain the trust of clients and encourage them to give you more referrals for better business. Courtesy, friendliness and patience are traits that will help you succeed in this career.
As far as technical qualities are concerned, you need to possess excellent hand-eye coordination in order to accurately adjust and repair eyeglasses through the use of special tools. You also need to possess good decision-making skills as clients will be asking for your opinion on what styles and lenses are appropriate for them. Of course, that means you’ll have to be updated on the latest eyewear trends as well.
Why Become An Optician
As a career, dispensing opticians sit at the juncture of health and fashion. It is very satisfying to be able to provide customers with the eyewear they need that is both functional and stylish. It’s also a rapidly-growing occupation that provides decent living wages without the need for prolonged studies. Thus, it’s relatively easier to get into compared to other vision-related careers. With the positive employment prospects for opticians in the coming years, it’s also a good career path to take due to the numerous work opportunities available. Those whose families already own optical stores or health stores that also sell eyewear will find that pursuing a career as an optician is more beneficial for the family business in the long run.
Optician Work Environment
Opticians generally work fulltime and are mostly under the employ of optometrists. There are many who also work in health and personal care stores, general merchandise stores and doctors’ offices. Those who work with optometrists usually follow regular business hours but those who are in retail establishments may often need to work in the evenings, weekends or holidays.
The Occupational Employment and Wages report of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that in May 2013, dispensing opticians had a mean annual wage of $35,710. The agency reported in May 2012 that opticians employed by health and personal care stores received the highest pay at $35,990. Those hired by physicians’ offices were paid $34,690; those in optometrists’ of offices got $31,820 while opticians working for general merchandise stores got $29,560.
When viewed side by side with the salary of optometrists, however, that of dispensing opticians pale considerably. The Occupational Employment and Wages report showed that the mean annual wage for optometrists in May 2013 is $111,640. Of course, it takes a longer period of time—around eight years of study starting from a bachelor’s degree to getting a Doctor of Optometry degree—before one can become an optometrist so the salary difference is justified.
Optician Career Outlook
The job outlook of opticians is rosy. For the period covering 2012 to 2022, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the employment rate will grow 23 percent. Thus, from the 67,600 dispensing opticians hired in 2012, the number is expected to rise to 83,500 in 2022. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations and will be fueled mainly by the growth of the elderly population who will need eye care. The increasing number of people getting diagnosed with chronic diseases that affect their vision is also going to contribute to the demand. Optometrists and ophthalmologists are also expected to hire more opticians as they continue to nurture their operations by offering clients eyeglasses and contact lenses. Opticians who have an associate degree and hold relevant certifications will have an edge in looking for jobs.
The minimum educational requirement for this profession is a high school diploma or its equivalent. The skills are learned on the job with training, usually in the form of an apprenticeship lasting at least two years. The instruction is typically provided by an experienced optician who teaches technical and business skills to the neophyte. Duties like how to measure a customer’s eyes, how to adjust frames and office management practices are covered during training.
Another entry point in this career is by finishing a two-year associate degree or a one-year certificate at a technical school or community college. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that as of 2012, there are 21 of these programs accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation which are found in 14 states. Learning takes place in the classroom as well as through supervised hands-on work. Aspiring opticians are taught eye physiology, optics and business management, among others. For those who can’t attend classes in school, some programs offer online instruction.
Those who are already working in the field may enroll in the Ophthalmic Career Progression Program offered by the National Academy of Opticianry. Opticians must have a license to work in half of the states in the US. They must pass the tests of the American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners to obtain certificates in eyeglass and contact lens dispensing. Continuing education is required in states where licenses are needed for opticians to be able to renew their licenses every one or two years.