Dispensing Optician: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for dispensing opticians. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Optician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Dispensing Optician?

Dispensing opticians help measure, fit, and adjust corrective lenses and eyeglass frames, following prescriptions from ophthalmologists or optometrists. They also help patients select frames that are suited to their faces and teach them the correct ways of inserting and removing contact lenses. Opticians may be responsible for a variety of business tasks, such as keeping sales records, tracking prescriptions, and maintaining inventory. See the information about dispensing opticians in the table below:

Education RequiredH.S. diploma or equivalent at minimum; some employers prefer a certificate or an associate's degree
Education Field of StudyOphthalmic technology
Key ResponsibilitiesCheck finished lenses against prescription;
Measure dimensions of patient's face for proper eyeglass fit;
Instruct patients in care and cleaning techniques for lenses
LicensureRequired by some but not all states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 24%*
Mean Salary (2015)$36,820*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Dispensing Optician?

As a dispensing optician, you'd help people choose the appropriate style and fit of glasses or contact lenses. With a prescription from an optometrist, you'd consider the type of vision correction that each patient needs in order to make a selection. You'll also use instruments to measure patients' eyes and faces to ensure comfortable and effective fits. Many dispensing opticians send work orders to ophthalmic laboratory technicians to grind and insert lenses into frames, but you could do this yourself. You could work in a medical office, specialty optics store or large department store with an optic department.

What Education Do I Need?

Although you only need a high school diploma to start working in the optical dispensing field, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that many employers increasingly prefer to hire individuals who have received some formal training. If you want to complete formal training, both certificate and associate's degree programs are available. In an ophthalmic dispensing program, you'll study optical anatomy and dispensing practices. You could also learn the trade in an apprenticeship program, which are often offered by big companies in states that don't require licensure.

What Licensure Do I Need?

As of 2015, roughly half of all states required dispensing opticians to be licensed, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can check your state's rules and regulations through the OAA website. If you are required to be licensed in your state, you may need to take one or more of the following exams: the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) certification exam, the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) certification exam, a state written exam or a state practical exam. If you are not required to be licensed in your state, you may choose to seek voluntary certification from the ABO or NCLE in order to demonstrate your professional ability and expertise.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The BLS reported in May 2015 that dispensing opticians earned a mean annual salary of $36,820. The highest ten percent earned $55,530 or more, while the lowest ten percent earned $21,980 or less. The BLS notes that job prospects are excellent, with employment expected to increase by 24% between 2014 and 2024. An aging population and rapidly changing fashion trends may add to the increased demand for knowledgeable dispensing opticians.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a few related careers which require only a high school diploma that may interest you. For instance, ophthalmic laboratory technicians make the contact or eyeglass lenses prescribed by an optometrist, by hand or using automated machines. Medical appliance technicians create and repair supportive medical devices such as hearing aids and leg braces. Dental laboratory technicians work closely with dentists to create dental appliances, such as crowns and bridges, for patients.

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