How to Become an Optician in 5 Steps

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

What Does An Optician Do?

Opticians are involved in the eye care of their customers. They use prescriptions provided by optometrists and help individuals select frames or lenses, and then measure the individual's face so that their eyewear will fit comfortably. They may also perform repairs to damaged eyewear. They prepare work orders to ensure that each customer gets the right product with the correct prescription. Opticians may also help inform customers about how to care for their eyewear. They manage their inventory and sales records. As of 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 38% of opticians worked in optometrists' offices, while 31% worked in stores. 10% of opticians worked in doctors' offices.

Training Requirements On-the-job training; postsecondary certificate or associate's degree or apprenticeship are other options
Key Skills Communication, dexterity, problem-solving, customer service
Licensure Some states require licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 24% (for all opticians, dispensing)*
Median Salary (2015) $34,840 (for all opticians, dispensing)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Optician?

An optician helps people with vision problems to see properly and to look their best. As an optician, you'd make recommendations on eyeglass frames that will complement a client's features, also taking into account their personal habits and occupations. You'd also be responsible for repairing or adjusting broken or ill-fitting eyeglass frames.

With additional training, opticians become qualified to fit clients for contact lenses. Microscopes and other special machinery are used to closely examine and measure clients' eyes. Once the contact lenses have been made, the optician provides the client with instructions on how to properly insert and remove them.

Step 1: Research Job Responsibilities

One of your primary tasks as an optician is to ensure that lenses and frames are fitted precisely to their clients' eyes. Specifically, you'd measure the bridge of the nose, the pupils and the client's temple length. For glasses, you'd grind custom lenses according to prescriptions, ensuring that specifications have been met and that the end product is satisfactory for the client. You must also assist clients with choosing the right styles and colors, as well as tinting eyeglass lenses to give a client his or her best possible look. Time is also spent on practical administrative tasks, such as invoicing, maintaining client prescription records and monitoring inventory.

Step 2: Acquire Opticianry Education and Training

High school diplomas are generally the minimum requirement for obtaining a job as an optician, but it's becoming increasingly necessary to acquire an associate's degree in opticianry. If possible, enroll in a program that is approved by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation. Some community colleges offer these programs. In addition to classes in anatomy, physics, computer applications and trigonometry, your curriculum might include courses on such subjects as optical laboratory, optical dispensing theory, optical business management, technical proficiency and contact lens laboratory.

Some larger employers offer apprenticeships for aspiring opticians, so you may also pursue this training option. In this instance, you'll work with and be trained by ophthalmologists, optometrists or experienced opticians. You'll learn the practical and technical skills of an optician, and you'll receive training in sales and office management procedures. Apprenticeships can take about two years to complete.

Step 3: Obtain a License

Licensing laws for opticians vary from state to state. Some states require licensure, which entails successfully passing written and practical examinations. To qualify to take the state board examinations, you must be a graduate of a formal opticianry program, or you must have served as an optician apprentice for a period of 2-4 years. You may also be required to pass certification examinations given by the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) and the American Board of Opticianry (ABO).

The NCLE examination will test such areas as diagnostic fit and evaluation, lens dispensing, patient education and delivery procedures, and administrative issues. The ABO examination will encompass the use of ophthalmic equipment, analyzing and interpreting prescriptions and fitting and dispensing spectacles and other devices.

Step 4: Participate in Continuing Education

Usually, continuing education courses are required in order to renew your license. You'll have to renew your license every three years. Continuing education classes may be offered through opticians' conferences, including the one held annually by the Contact Lens Society of America. In addition, continuing education seminars and online courses are offered by The National Academy of Opticianry.

Step 5: Consider Your Advancement Options

As a licensed optician who has completed an approved opticianry program, you should have better job prospects than your unlicensed counterparts. With some years of experience, you may become an eyewear designer or sell eyewear for manufacturers. You can also open your own optical store, or become a manager for such an operation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians work with clients to help construct, repair or fit medical items that may include dentures, eyeglasses and prosthetics. They do not necessarily need any postsecondary education to prepare for their career, though college training can be helpful. If you're interested in a similarly precision-focused career field, you might consider becoming a jeweler or precious stone worker. These professionals craft necklaces, rings, bracelets and more, and they often repair and clean jewelry for clients as well. A high school diploma and on-the-job training are the basic requirements for the occupation.

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