All About Opticians
This section covers what you need to know about the job of optician.
The FAQ covers what you need to know about the OpticianWorks program.
Please be sure to read them both.
If you are seriously considering becoming an optician
SLOW DOWN and READ this entire page carefully – TWICE!
Opticians make eyeglasses, sell eyeglasses, repair eyeglasses and adjust eyeglasses. They work for themselves, in retail stores, and in doctor’s offices. Opticians often work with other eye care professionals (ECPs) and some opticians fit and dispense contact lenses. Opticians help people choose the best possible eyewear and lenses based on fashion, fit and customer needs.
Your studies will include learning the science involved with light and optical lenses. Some pretty cool stuff!
The primary job of an optician is to bring money in to a practice by making eyewear, being competent, knowledgeable and by offering appropriate products. Contrary to what you will read elsewhere opticians are not part of healthcare, they are part of business. Never, ever forget that people like to shop but people hate going to the doctor!
Your job will be what you make it. Here at OpticianWorks you will find the training you need to find steady work as an entry-level optician or everything you need to be a Rock Star Optician!
It really can be a great job.
With a basic level of training, you can make a real living wage and work under good conditions. Pay for an experienced and competent optician is actually quite good. Work hours are often flexible and the work is not at all physically demanding. Since stores are trying to appeal to shoppers the physical locations are often convenient and usually quite pleasant.
In case you are you looking for a certificate level job that really does combine eyecare and healthcare you have two options.
1) Work with contact lenses and specialize in all areas of contact lens use. The world needs more good, experienced contact lens specialists.
2) Look at the COA programs.
Click here to learn more about COA
If you really desire a position that is a part of healthcare and will involve true patient and doctor interaction, then you may want to consider becoming a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant, or COA, instead of an optician. COAs are involved with real, hands-on medical procedures, and often act as the liaison between patients and other true healthcare practitioners.
John note here: Don’t confuse a COA with an optician who has been able to create a job that mimics that of a COA. We assume that 95% of all opticians rarely do anything that would fall under the area of true healthcare. We do try to connect you with those other 5% when we can.
To learn more about the positions available under the COA umbrella, I spoke with Sergina Flaherty, COMT, OSC.
Sergina is an ophthalmic technologist (OT). She serves as a speaker before industry groups and private organizations. She is widely recognized for her teaching of continuing education courses to ophthalmic technicians both nationally and internationally. She teaches at the annual meetings of the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO), International Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (IJCAHPO), American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons (ASCRS), Caribbean Association Ophthalmic Technical Personnel (CAOTP), Ophthalmic Personnel Society of San Antonio (OPSSA), and brings her custom designed training seminars to ophthalmology and optometry offices, on an as needed basis. She has published numerous articles in eye industry publications that include the Ophthalmic Professional magazine, the ATPO member only Viewpoints Journal, and the Journal of Ophthalmic Photography, a publication of the Ophthalmic Photographers Society (OPS). She has also contributed numerous articles to the online blog of the Local Eye Site, a job search company for eye care professionals.
As a prominent ophthalmic technologist in the country, Sergina currently serves as immediate past president on the board of directors of the ATPO, serves as an ATPO representative on the IJCAHPO as a IJCAHPO Council member, is an member at large on the board of directors of the CAOTP, and is the program director of the OPSSA. She developed and continues to moderate “Ophthalmic Techs on Facebook,” a group of over 2500 AOPs since March 2015, and is the owner and principal member of Ophthalmic Seminars of San Antonio. She works full time with Doctors Kristin Story Held and Allison Paige Young at Stone Oak Ophthalmology as their senior ophthalmic technician.
Whew! I think you will agree, Sergina is an expert who deserves our attention for a few minutes.
John: Before we jump into the role of the COA, can you briefly tell me what, if any, interactions you have with opticians?
Sergina: I work full time in a comprehensive ophthalmology office. We own our own optical shop, which is situated in our waiting room. I personally appreciate having a knowledgeable optician available. Anytime I encounter a spectacle problem and have confirmed the manifest refraction to be correct, I can easily consult with our optician, who can help troubleshoot the spectacle issues with me. Then, as a team, we can provide full service to the patient.
John: Just off the top of my head, when I think of “COA,” a few things pop up. First is that from what I can tell there are many, many, m-a-n-y levels of certification. Can you tell us a little about that?
Sergina: Yes, there are three core levels of certification and four additional ones. The IJCAHPO is our certifying body.
IJCAHPO Certification Levels:
- COA – Certified Ophthalmic Assistant –Basic level
- COA – Certified Ophthalmic Technician – Intermediate level
- COMT – Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist – Advanced level
Additional JCAHPO certifications:
- OSA – Ophthalmic Surgical Assistant – for ophthalmic personnel who assist ophthalmologists in the operating room
- ROUB – Registered Ophthalmic Ultrasound Biometrist – for ophthalmic personnel who provide pre-operative measurements by use of an A-Scan
- CDOS – Certified Diagnostic Ophthalmic Sonographer – for ophthalmic personnel who perform diagnostic B-Scan
- OSC – Ophthalmic Scribe Certification – For ophthalmic personnel who scribe for their ophthalmologists and a great first certification for the beginner ophthalmic assistant.
John: Um, hold up a second, A Scan and B Scan?
Sergina: Yes. A biometrist uses an A-Scan, which is an ultrasound machine that uses sound waves to measure axial eye length. A-Scans are also optical biometers that use light to measure axial eye length. A-Scans are required when a patient needs cataract surgery where an intraocular lens will be implanted. The figures that we gather from these measurements are used to calculate the lens implant power, along with other measurements. There are also Diagnostic A-Scans that are used to measure intraocular tumors, etc. However, diagnostic A-Scan instruments are mostly found in large clinical settings and at universities.
B-Scan is different from the A-Scan. It is used only for diagnostic purposes. B-scan is used when clinical examination proves to be difficult, mainly due to the existence of intraocular opacities or diagnostic doubts. In these cases, the implementation of a B-mode ultrasound examination can streamline or modify the management of a patient’s condition.
John: Mmmm… OK.
Certified AOPs or Allied Ophthalmic Personnel, perform assigned procedures under the direction or supervision of a physician licensed to practice medicine and surgery and qualified in ophthalmology.
Some common tasks performed by ophthalmic technicians at all levels of certification include:
- History taking
- Obtaining chief complaint
- Maintaining instruments
- Providing patient services
- Taking eye measurements
- Administering tests and evaluation
- Performing a variety of clinical tasks
JCAHPO certifications and examinations include knowledge and performance of techniques in the administration of eye drops, ointments, and irrigating solutions to the eye, and knowledge about oral medications and non-invasive techniques.
For more information, visit jcahpo.org/certification. There, you’ll find the prerequisites that are required to pursue JCAHPO certification at each level.
John: Are these national, regional or state-by-state certifications? Are they transferrable from state-to-state?
Sergina: IJCAHPO certification is worldwide. As of July 2017, there were 25,384 certificate holders in 34 countries. The certifications are recognized across state and country lines.
John: The second thing that comes to mind is education levels. I had a student once that left our opticianry program only to return when he found the training for COA/Surgical tech overwhelming. Can you talk a little about the varying educational expectations?
Sergina: There are various roads to becoming an ophthalmic technician. On the job training is one such road. However, without formal training, it can be overwhelming. I highly recommend that while a person learns on the job that they also attend live seminars, online webinars, and perform self-study by reading books and ophthalmic publications. There are ophthalmic programs available throughout the USA. These programs can run anywhere from six months to a few years. Some programs qualify one to sit for a particular level of certification. There are some ophthalmic technicians who, like myself, received their training in the US Army. My training was six months and I took the AAO Home study course to qualify to take the COA test. Four years later, I took and passed the COT test. Six years later, I took and passed the COMT test.
John: If understand you, all levels of certifications require no formal college degrees?
Sergina: No formal college degrees are required. However, there are formal OT programs available throughout the USA where one can get an associate’s degree. After attending a formal program, one must sit for the IJCAHPO certification test to be certified. A degree opens many doors to OT. For example, when ophthalmic industry considers hiring an OT, one with a degree will be considered before one without a degree.
John: Can you tell us about demand, job growth expectations and your view on the future of the COA certifications?
Sergina: The demand is huge!!! ATPO developed a Career Development Taskforce and has partnered with ASCRS and IJCAHPO. We are currently in the process of surveying ophthalmologists’ needs. Anecdotally, we are aware of a shortage of ophthalmic technicians, and we hope to be able to prove it. Additionally, ATPO has launched the “Train the Trainer” program in an effort to help practices to train their ophthalmic technicians to become in-office trainers, with the thought that if they can train within, they can hire inexperienced people to become ophthalmic technicians.
John: You know I have to ask. Are there any figures on income for the different certification levels?
Sergina: I’m glad you asked, John. ATPO has performed salary surveys every other year since 2007. ATPO members have access to the survey as part of their membership benefits. The next survey will be published this year, 2017. It can be purchased for $50.00 for non-members. It is available for sale at:
John: (laughs) Let’s try that again… I don’t think our members are going to spend $50 just to find out. Can you give us some idea of what a basic entry level COA might expect for a salary? Or even a comparison to an optician starting salary? It is OK to say, “no.”
Here is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook says about opticians: “2015 median pay = $34,840 per year, or $16.75 per hour.
Sergina: I will agree to refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I have worked at my current practice for over twenty years, and personally do not know what the current salary figures are for the different levels of certification. I would like to add that a base salary is comfortable, and there are opportunities to add to that with writing, teaching, etc.
John: I mentioned the surgical tech level of certification. Just how “hands-on” or maybe better “hands-in,” if you will, do some techs get?
Sergina: I assisted in cataract and retinal cases earlier in my career. I scrubbed in and sat to the right of the ophthalmologist. I handed him instruments and had them ready before he needed them. I enjoyed nearly eight years in the operating room and I miss it to this day.
John: Just to be clear here, a COA may actually assist a doctor of ophthalmology during surgery, right? I mean operating rooms, scalpels, blood and sutures?
Sergina: Yes. Now, I heard there are some states that require an OT to be a Certified Surgical Technologist. There are many certified OT who are assisting in operating rooms that have been grandfathered in. New OTs will have to check state laws if they desire to assist in the operating room. IJCAHPO OSC certification is not recognized as a qualification, in some states.
John: Can you describe the typical day in the life of a base-level COA?
Sergina: Sure! You’ll start the day running by grabbing the chart or entering the electronic medical record (EMR) and calling your patient. Once in the examination room, you would collect a medical and social history, obtain a chief complaint, check the patient’s visual acuity, perform lensometry, perform an manifest refractometry, muscle testing, confrontation visual fields, pupil testing, tonometry, and dilate the patient. You may perform a corneal topography, especially if the patient wears contact lenses. The doctor may ask for an optical coherence tomography (OCT), formal visual field testing, ophthalmic fundus or external photography, as well. These tests are all dependent on what the ophthalmologist finds on initial examination.
The ophthalmologist may have a patient return at another date for some testing. The technician may repeat this process over and over on multiple patients throughout the day. Some patient are follow-ups, and do not require every test at every visit. Sometimes, we assist in in office procedures, for example, irrigation and drainage of a chalazion, removal of an eyelid lesion, or YAG laser capsulotomy. Some technicians perform pre-operative measurements and perform a-scan biometry.
John: Any idea on the numbers of optometry practices versus ophthalmology practices that employ COAs?
Sergina: It is my understanding that optometry has its own certification. The American Optometric Association developed a program for their paraoptometric staff.
There are four levels of certification:
- Certified Paraoptometric – CPO – Entry level
- Certified Paraoptometric Assistant – CPOA – Intermediate level
- Certified Paraoptometric Technician – CPOT – Advanced level
- Paraoptometric Coding Specialist – CPOC – Specialty level
To read more about these visit www.aoa.org
John: I’m known for putting people on the spot. Would you recommend COA as a job to your own child or a high school senior trying to make a career choice?
Sergina: Absolutely and without reservation!! I am frustrated by our high schools, as they push college on every student. Now, don’t get me wrong. College is wonderful and it will allow a person better career options. However, we all can’t afford college, we all may not be college material, or we may just want to have a career that brings us the meat and potatoes to live. The pay is really good, and there is security in knowing that you’ll always have a job no matter the economy or if you have to move. The demand is high for us and that’s a good thing!!
John: Let’s guess that at least one of our members is reading this and thinking, “Heck, yeah, that was more like what I was looking for!” What would be their next step?
Sergina: Call the ophthalmologist in their community and tell them you are interested. Ophthalmologists love opticians that want to cross over, as they already understand optics. Optics can be hard for the layperson. So, opticians have an upper hand. The rest can be learned on the job.
John: Thank you. Is there anything you would like to add?
Sergina: Many ophthalmic technicians are confused about the difference between IJCAHPO and ATPO and think they are a member of both, when they become certified. This is far from the truth.
IJCAHPO is a commission of twenty-two regular member organizations with representatives from each organization. IJCAHPO is our certifying body.
IJCAHPO goals are:
- Development of standards of conduct, examination, certification, and recertification of allied ophthalmic personnel
- Development of continuing education and services for allied health personnel in ophthalmology
- Provide a forum for ophthalmic –related organizations to collaborate
- Support of the accreditation process for medical programs for training and education of allied health personnel in ophthalmology.
ATPO is a professional membership organization of AOP an organization of high quality standards and professional ethics, and dedicated to quality vision care under the direction of an ophthalmologist. Our mission is to provide, expand, and support scientific and educational opportunities for allied health personnel in ophthalmology and to act as an advocate for its members and the profession.
ATPO goals are:
- To advocate for the profession
- Set standards and encourage IJCAHPO certification
- Offer continuing education
- Discuss issues confronting the profession
- Provide national and international channels of communication among members
- Enhance the image of ophthalmic medical personnel.
Thank you for this opportunity to help your readers’ understanding of my profession.
John here again – Get it? A COA has a true role within healthcare. An optician has a true role in business. Decide which you want to be, and don’t confuse one with the other. COA is not for everyone; neither is optician. Again, know the difference before you make a decision.
Learning all the skills needed to be an optician is very hands-on. So, in addition to studying here you will need to work in an optical shop, go to school or become an apprentice. OpticianWorks is the best way to learn about the job and to build a foundation to rapidly advance at your workplace. You will also be fully prepared to pass any exams you may need to take.
Think About It — If becoming an optician was quick and easy and anyone could do it then you would not earn a living wage by being one!
If you look around you will find plenty of other websites and training manuals that promise, “quick”, “easy”, “fast” and “simple.”
If learning what it takes to be a successful optician was quick, easy, fast and simple there would be no value in it.
Please, if you do nothing else today – stop and think about that for a moment.
What Makes A Great Optician?
Are you good with your hands?
Can you sew?
Ever make a model car or airplane?
Can you repair small objects that are broken?
Have you ever mended a broken piece of jewelry?
Do you change your own watch battery?
Do you have some mechanical ability?
Can you work with basic hand tools?
Do you know the difference between a screw and a nail?
Do you know the difference between a nut and a bolt?
If something is broken do you usually try to fix it?
Do you have patience?
Can you really stick with something difficult and see it through?
Can you do basic math in whole numbers, fractions and decimals?
Do you remember your number line and negative numbers?
Can you work with people?
Note: You do not have to “love people” or be a “people person” but can you honestly work with other people and the public in a retail setting?
Do you have at least some eye for detail?
If you answer yes to the above questions then you may well make a great optician!
No individual, no school, no college, no on-line program, no study guide, no manual can “certify” you as an optician. In the United States certification and-or licensure is on a state-by-state basis. You may receive a certificate that states that you have passed a specific course of study or a particular exam but never one that certifies that you are an optician.
Please re-read that! It is very important!
Even though you will see the words National and American in their titles:
There is NO nationally recognized certification or training program for opticians.
There is NO legal and/or political national organization for opticians.
There is NO national testing program for opticians.
There is NO nationally agreed upon definition for the role of an optician.
Compare this with the COA or Certified Ophthalmic Assistant programs outlined above.
There are only twenty-two states that require you to have a license to call yourself an optician. The other twenty-eight states have little or no requirements to dispense eyewear or make eyeglasses.
If you live in or plan to work in one of the following states, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia or Washington you will need to become a licensed optician through a state approved course of study and pass a written and perhaps a practical exam. This may include college courses, a full college associates (2 year) degree or apprenticeship through the Department of Labor program.
Check with your state agency a list of which can be found at:
If you live in or plan to work in one of the following states, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin or Wyoming there is no license required by the state to practice. I would still check with the state and ask a local optical store to be sure.
About the ABO:
Many states use the American Board of Opticianry (ABO or NOCE National Opticianry Competency Exam) written examination as all or part of their license process.
The ABO exam is a minimal competency, low passing score exam.
Passing it does not mean you are an optician.
If you have failed the ABO exam, even once, it is proof that you DO NOT understand key concepts and that you lack the foundation education you need to be an optician or competent ECP. You must reset your starting point and work through this entire site before attempting it again. Just, “trying until you pass” is no way to improve the income potential for other opticians or ECPs.
OpticianWorks offers a complete on-line education program. To work through the entire course of study you will need to apply yourself and study. I can promise you that it WILL NOT be “quick”, “easy”, “fast” or “simple” it will be hard work. But, like they always say, “Nothing worth having is easy!” And don’t worry we are here for you each step of the way.
You will need time to:
- Read all the lessons
- Study and review each lesson
- Take the provided tests and review the answers you missed
- Watch the videos
- Independently study other material like trade magazines
- Visit an optical lab and spend a few days at an optical shop