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What Are the Duties of an Optical Assistant?

Optical assistants, also known as optometric assistants or opticians, work with optometrists to provide vision care for patients in need of corrective treatment. Read on to discover the responsibilities you'll have if you pursue an optical assistance career.

Overview of the Optical Assistant Position

As an optical assistant, you'll work in optometrists' offices, helping doctors and technicians provide vision care to patients. While many optical assistants work in private practices, you might also find employment in a healthcare clinic or retail environment. Like medical assistants, you'll likely receive most of your career training on the job; however, some schools offer certificate and associate's degree programs geared toward optical assistants. Formal education may be necessary if your state requires licensure. According to March 2021 findings from Payscale.com, most optometric assistants earned between $10.92 and $18.46 per hour.

Important Facts About Optical Assistants

Job Outlook (2019-2029) 4% growth (for all dispensing opticians)*
Median Salary (2021) $32,000 (for all optometric assistants)**
Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Key Skills Business acumen, clear written and spoken communication, attention to detail, customer focused, manual dexterity
Similar Occupations Optometrists, orthotists, prosthetists, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians, medical appliance technicians

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

Duties

The exact nature of your duties will depend on the optometrist for which you work. While some optometrists allow you to perform basic eye tests on patients and provide chair-side assistance during exams, your responsibilities will generally be non-medical in nature. Your major functions will be to perform clerical duties and assist customers with their eyewear.

Clerical Duties

Depending on the scope of your responsibilities, your administrative duties may include obtaining patients' medical histories and filing them in the proper locations. Assistants also process payments and maintain records of transactions. You may also be expected to answer phones, schedule appointments, order optometric supplies and maintain the inventory. Some optical assistants prepare patients for examinations or procedures.

Eyewear Assistance

As an optical assistant, you may provide patients with fitted eyeglass frames and contact lenses. You might, for example, order lens prescriptions for patients as well as helping patients select frames and adjusting those frames until they fit comfortably. You'll also instruct patients on the use and care of contact lenses and spectacles.

In some cases, you will help make and repair eyeglasses and contact lenses; however, the optometrist you work for may designate those duties to optometric technicians, who have more medical training and formal education.

Licensure and Certification Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), almost half of the states require optical assistants to be licensed. Completion of a formal training program or apprenticeship is usually required. Depending on the state, optical assistants must pass a state written exam, state practical exam and/or certification exam administered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). Continuing education is typically required to maintain licensure.

If your state does not require licensure, you may still consider taking the exam offered by the ABO and NCLE to earn optional certification. The ABO and NCLE notes that certification can lead to higher wages and more job opportunities. Many employers prefer or even require that applicants be certified.