Becoming an Ophthalmic Photographer: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of becoming an ophthalmic photographer? Read on to see real job descriptions, salary info and career prospects to find out if becoming an ophthalmic photographer is the right career choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Ophthalmic Photographer

Ophthalmic photographers use various techniques to create images of patients' eyes for diagnostic purposes. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming an ophthalmic photographer is right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Ophthalmic Photographer
Annual pay of about $31,000-$58,000 for 10th-90th percentile**
Increased need for all types of ophthalmic medical personnel***
Strong projected job growth (22% or higher from 2012-2022)*****
Possible research or clinical trial participation*

Cons of Becoming an Ophthalmic Photographer
No formal training programs available*
Some employers require certification****
Work involves both close patient contact and technological knowledge****
Possible overtime hours**

Sources: *Ophthalmic Photographers' Society, **PayScale.com, ***The American Academy of Ophthalmology, ****Duke University, *****O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Ophthalmic photographers work with an ophthalmic medical team to create images of patients' retinas, corneas and other ocular structures to help diagnose and devise treatment plans for various eye-related problems. In this position, you would perform tests like fluorescein angiography, which uses a dye to show blood flow in the eye, or fundus photography, which uses a low-power microscope to photograph the retina. The nature of these and other procedures means that you'll be in close contact with patients, explaining what you're doing and positioning them for the best angles. Part of your role might be to clean and maintain the equipment you work with. Once you've gathered images, you might consult with a physician to explain your findings and help make a diagnosis.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

PayScale.com reported in July 2015 that ophthalmic photographers in the 10th-90th percentile range made an hourly rate of about $14.00-$27.00, which, when combined with overtime and bonuses, equaled approximate total pay in the range of $31,000-$58,000.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes a shortage of ophthalmic medical personnel, so you may have good job opportunities. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, O*Net OnLine projected a 22% or higher increase in employment for ophthalmic medical technologists from 2012-2022, which is faster than average. Ophthalmic photographers fall into this broader category of professionals in the optometry field.

Education Requirements

Although there are currently no formal training programs specifically designed for ophthalmic photographers, there are programs in ophthalmic technology that include photography as part of their curricula. Historically, ophthalmic photographers learned their skills on the job or from medical photography programs, and this is still a path you could pursue.

If you complete a certificate or associate's degree program in ophthalmic technology, you would also learn some skills as a technician, so you could perform multiple duties on a ophthalmologist's team. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology's Commission on Accreditation of Ophthalmic Medical Programs lists these programs by state and type.

Skills

As an ophthalmic photographer, you should have good eyesight so that you can successfully capture the necessary images. You should also have strong attention to detail, a skill that will help you to detect the minute differences in patients' eyes that lead to correct diagnoses. Because you work so closely with patients, a calm and comfortable manner in dealing with people can be important. And since your work is technology-based, you should feel comfortable with computers and other digital equipment.

What Employers Are Looking For

Job postings for ophthalmic photographers generally mention the procedures you'd be performing on the job. Some list certification as a requirement, while other employers require that you become certified within a certain period of time after being hired. Read these summaries of job postings open in June 2012 to get an idea of what some employers are looking for:

  • An eye center in Montana was looking to hire an ophthalmic photographer to perform multiple diagnostic procedures. The company preferred someone with certification but was also willing to hire someone who would work to become certified after hire.
  • A university eye center in California was searching for an ophthalmic photographer to both perform diagnostic imaging tests and conduct research. The employer sought someone with at least an associate's degree and three years of experience or a similar combination of education and experience.
  • A health system in Illinois was looking for an ophthalmic photographer to work in outpatient services performing diagnostic procedures. The candidate was required to have 2-3 years of college coursework and 1-2 years of experience.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Although you don't need to be certified to work as an ophthalmic photographer, some employers may want you to have a professional designation because it demonstrates your knowledge and ability. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology offers three levels of general ophthalmic certifications: assistant, technician and technologist. You have to meet certain experience, education and exam requirements to earn these credentials. The Ophthalmic Photographers' Society (OPS) Board of Certification offers the Certified Retinal Angiographer and Optical Coherence Tomography-Certified designations. OPS requires you to submit examples of your work and receive a passing score on an exam in order to gain certification.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're interested in photography but don't want to practice in a medical setting, you could work as a photographer who shoots studio portraits or events. Photographers usually find and manage their own clients, and some begin with little or no training. The BLS reported in May 2011 that photographers made a median annual salary of about $29,000.

If you'd like to help make medical diagnoses but don't want to work in ophthalmology, consider a career as a medical laboratory technician. Medical lab techs run tests on blood, tissue and other bodily samples to help doctors and their teams diagnose diseases. You can enter the field after completing a 1-year certificate or 2-year associate's degree program. The BLS reported in May 2011 that medical and clinical laboratory technicians made a median annual salary of about $37,000.

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