Becoming an Optician Technician: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about an optician technician's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming an optician technician.
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An Optician Technician Career: Pros and Cons

Optician technicians work as dispensing opticians, who usually dispense, measure and fit eyeglass frames and lenses, or as optometric technicians, who do eye testing and help clients with contact lenses. Here are a few of the pros and cons of becoming an optician technician to help you decide if this is the career for you.

Pros of an Optician Technician Career
Expected job growth is well above average (23% increase between 2012 and 2022)*
Opportunity to help people improve their vision with corrective lenses*
Career opportunities are available to people who don't have a college degree*
Variety of possible work environments (optometrist's offices, eyeglass and contact lens retailers)*

Cons of an Optician Technician Career
Median salary slightly less than national average ($34,000 in 2014)*
Working closely with the public can create high stress situations**
Might need state licensure in addition to training*
Might be exposed to infectious diseases**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **iSeek Careers

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

While the job duties of dispensing opticians and optometric technicians overlap, your work will vary depending on which path you choose. Opticians, also called dispensing opticians, help corrective lens wearers by measuring the face for frames and helping people choose the frames that look and work best for them. They write work orders for the lab technicians who actually make the lenses based on the eye doctor's prescription. After glasses are made, opticians make sure the lenses are correct and glasses fit properly by making adjustments in the frames as needed. Some dispensing opticians are also trained in fitting and showing clients how to use contact lenses. Opticians work in optometrist's offices as well as places where eyeglasses and contact lenses are sold.

Optometric technicians also work in eye doctor's offices under the supervision of an optometrist. According to the American Optometric Association, their duties might include performing vision tests, taking blood pressures, measuring the corneal curvature, photographing the interior of the eye and doing glaucoma screenings. Optometric technicians might also fit and measure for eyeglasses and show people how to wear and take care of their contact lenses. As either an optician or optometric technician you might perform other duties such as supervise other staff, maintain records, use computers and do administrative tasks.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

Jobs for optician technicians are likely to increase as the population of older Americans increase, since middle-aged and older persons are likely to need more eye care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for opticians is expected to increase 23% between 2012 and 2022. Median annual pay for opticians was $34,000 in 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

Optician technicians need at least a high school education. Many opticians learn their skills through on-the-job training programs or apprenticeships that can last several months to several years, depending on the employer. However, there are formal higher education programs in opticianry that offer one-year certificates and two-year associate degrees. According to the BLS, there are 21 associate degree programs in 14 states that are accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation.

Opticians and optometric technicians are required to hold a license to practice in 23 states. Completing an apprenticeship or earning an associate degree usually meets licensure requirements, but your state might also require you pass state or certification exams.

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers are looking for friendly, team-oriented opticians with excellent communication skills. A license is preferred, although not always required, and excellent customer service skills are a must. Here are a few of the optician jobs available in April 2012:

  • A retail optical store in Florida is looking to hire a licensed optician who can work a flexible schedule, including evenings and weekends. You'll need a high school diploma or equivalent and at least two years experience in retail or customer service. Knowledge of basic math and algebra is required, as is excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • An ophthalmology practice in Connecticut is advertising for a licensed optometrist to work part time in the practice. The successful candidate will be friendly, team-oriented, focused on customer service with good optical skills and a sense of fashion.
  • An optometry-focused recruiting firm is looking to hire an optician for a private optometry office in Dallas, Texas. The practice is looking for someone with excellent communication and clinical skills. Licensure is preferred but not absolutely mandatory for the successful candidate.

How Can I Stand Out?

Develop Related Skills

If you are in high school, taking courses in basic anatomy, physiology, algebra and physics can help prepare you for a career in this field. Business management courses might also be useful if you need to help manage an eye doctor's office or an optical store. You will also need good communication skills and good customer service skills.

Get Certified

Even if certification is not required in your state, having the credential will likely increase your job prospects. According to the American Board of Opticianry (ABO), persons with certification are more likely to get hired, earn higher pay and get promoted. Certification also improves job mobility, since exams are recognized in all states.

The ABO and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) organization offer basic and advanced certification for persons who work with and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses, respectively. The American Optometric Association (AOA) offers a multi-step certification process in paraoptometrics. Candidates for all tests should have a high school diploma or equivalent and be at least 18 years old. Basic tests must be passed in order to continue to advanced levels. The ABO-NCLE recommends test takers complete an optical school program or have two to three years experience before taking the test, although you don't need experience to sit for the exam. The AOA requires at least six months experience as a prerequisite for taking their basic certification test.

Other Fields to Consider

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician

If you are interested in working in the vision care field but are less interested in working with the public, you might consider becoming an ophthalmic laboratory technician. Ophthalmic technicians make corrective lenses for people who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, although some might make lenses for optical instruments such as binoculars or telescopes. Your job duties for would generally include cutting lenses according to the prescription, shaping the lens to fit the frames, tinting and polishing lenses as needed, then putting the lens and frames together.

Optician technicians might work in optometrist's or ophthalmologist's offices, in medical supply laboratories or in health and personal care retail stores. A few work in machinery manufacturing. Most ophthalmic laboratory technicians have a high school diploma and are trained on the job. Average salary for ophthalmic laboratory technicians was about $29,000 in 2011, and expected job growth is average at 13% between 2010 and 2020.

Orthotists and Prosthetists

If you like the idea of working closely with patients and fitting them with medical assistive devices, you might want to consider becoming an orthotist and prosthetist (O&P). O&P professionals design medical devices for people who need support devices such as braces and artificial limbs. You'll need at least a master's degree in orthotics and prosthetics after earning your bachelor's degree. No specific major is required as long as you take the math and science courses required by the program you're interested in.

Most professionals in this field are certified, and you'll need at least a one-year residency in either the prosthetics or orthotics to sit for the associated certification exam. Candidates who want certification in both fields must complete a residency for both. According to the BLS, the median salary for O&P professionals was well above average at $65,000 per year in 2011. Job growth for this field was expected to increase 12% between 2010 and 2020.

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