Jobs for Ophthalmic Surgical Assistants: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for ophthalmic surgical assistants. Get the facts about the required education, certifications and salary information to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Optician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Ophthalmic Surgical Assistant?

Ophthalmic surgical assistants help ophthalmologists perform eye surgeries. There are two types of assistant jobs in this field: surgical technologist and surgical physician assistant. Surgical technologists are lower level workers who assist ophthalmologists by preparing operating rooms, making sure that all equipment is in working order and handing them tools during the procedure. Surgical physician assistants are qualified to work more closely with doctors; they may directly perform certain aspects of the ophthalmic surgical operation.

The following table provides some basic information for the two main routes into this career field:

Surgical Technologist Physician Assistant
Education Required Postsecondary certificate Master's degree AND surgical residency or on-the-job training
Education Field of Study Surgical technology Physician assisting
Licensure and Certification Certification is voluntary in most states; specialty certification for ophthalmic assistants and surgical ophthalmic assistants available Licensure is required for all physician assistants
Job Growth (2014-24) 15% (for all surgical technologists)* 30% (for all physician assistants)*
Average Salary (2015) $45,940 (for all surgical technologists)* $99,270 (for all physician assistants)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Type of Work Will I Do as an Ophthalmic Surgical Assistant?

As an ophthalmic surgical assistant, you will work under the direction and supervision of an ophthalmologist. Along with assisting during surgery, you will be involved in preparing patients for procedures and preparing surgical instruments as well as administering evaluations and tests before and after surgery. In many cases you will be involved with patient follow-up after surgery.

What Education and Training Do I Need?

Ophthalmic surgical assistants may be ophthalmic technicians, surgical physician assistants or surgical assistants with specialized training to assist in ophthalmic surgery. A physician assistant completes a bachelor's degree program followed by a postgraduate physician assistant program and a surgical residency or on-the-job training. Another route to becoming an ophthalmic surgical assistant is to complete a master's degree program for surgical assistants, which is offered by some medical schools.

What Certification Is Available for Ophthalmic Surgical Assistants?

The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) offers sub-specialty certification in Ophthalmic Surgical Assisting (OSA). You must first earn one of JCAHPO's core certifications, which includes the Certified Ophthalmic Assistant, Technician or Medical Technologist designations. To qualify, you must also have completed an accredited clinical training program within the past year, have 18 months of approved experience or complete a JCAHPO-approved surgical assisting course. You must then pass an exam to become certified.

Additionally, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) offers the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination for graduates of physician assistant training (www.nccpa.net). You will need to obtain this certification to become licensed and enter surgical assisting as a physician assistant. You must maintain certification by completing 100 hours of continuing education every two years and passing a recertification exam every six years.

How Much Might I Earn?

PayScale.com reported in January 2017 that most ophthalmic surgical assistants earned between $29,624 and $57,783 per year, including overtime and bonuses. Hourly wages ranged from $14.07-$25.35.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of becoming a surgical technologist, you could pursue another support position in the medical field, such as a job as a licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN/LVN). In this job, you would work under the supervision of doctors and higher-level nurses to provide basic patient care. Work as an LPN or LVN requires the completion of a postsecondary certificate program, as well as a license to practice. If you are looking for an alternative to a physician assistant job, you might want to consider a different mid-level surgery-related career, such as a job as a nurse anesthetist. These advanced practice nurses specialize in the administration of anesthesia during surgical procedures, including ophthalmic surgeries. You would need to get a master's degree and pass a licensure exam for this job.

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