Pros and Cons of an Ophthalmologist Technician Career
Ophthalmologist or ophthalmic technicians perform eye care procedures under the direction of licensed ophthalmologists. Check out the following list of pros and cons to decide whether or not becoming an ophthalmologist technician is right for you.
|Pros of Being an Ophthalmologist Technician|
|Good pay (mean income of $36,520 a year as of 2014)*|
|Training can be completed on the job**|
|Flexible work schedule**|
|Can advance to a position as an ophthalmic medical technologist with additional experience**|
|Cons of Being an Ophthalmologist Technician|
|Risk of exposure to infectious diseases***|
|Mistakes could result in patient injury****|
|Job duties might include dealing with difficult patients****|
|Must work under rigorous deadlines****|
Sources: *Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology, **Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology, ***Henry Ford Community College, ****iSeek.org.
If you pursue a career as an ophthalmologist technician, one of your primary responsibilities will be to record and update patients' medical histories. You could also operate and maintain diagnostic equipment used to measure patients' visual acuity, eye pressure, eye movement and visual fields. Other job duties might include showing patients how to remove and care for their contact lenses. Depending on your employer's job demands, you could also coordinate patient appointments and code medical procedures for reimbursement purposes. If you work in an eye surgeon's office, you'll take ophthalmic photographs and assist with laser vision correction procedures as well.
Career Prospects and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that ophthalmic laboratory technicians could experience a 12% growth in job opportunities through the 2012-2022 decade. Employment opportunities for ophthalmologist technicians should be especially promising due to an aging population's need for the vision services provided by hospitals, clinics and private ophthalmology practices.
According to the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology's 2011 salary survey, as reported by the American Medical Association, ophthalmologist technicians earned an average of about $60,000 a year. The BLS noted that ophthalmic medical technicians made a median income of $35,230 in 2014.
What Are the Requirements?
The minimum educational requirement for an ophthalmologist technician is a high school diploma. Many employers train applicants to perform entry-level tasks on the job. You might begin your career by taking patient histories and eye measurements before learning how to fit contact lenses and perform diagnostic procedures.
Some employers, however, look for applicants who've completed formal training programs. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) offers self-study courses you can complete from home. Colleges and universities also offer 1-year certificate programs that include a combination of classroom and supervised clinical training.
You'll be working with patients on a daily basis, so having good communication and interpersonal skills is a must. Attention to detail is also important, since you'll be updating patients' charts and documenting their vision test results. Having the mechanical aptitude to maintain, calibrate and operate ophthalmic testing equipment is necessary as well.
Job Postings from Real Employers
According to recent job posts, many employers are looking for ophthalmologist technicians with 2-3 years of experience. Here are some details from an April 2012 search of available job ads:
- A laser vision correction center in Virginia was looking for applicants who've completed an ophthalmologist technician training course and acquired at least two years of experience. Applicants with an associate degree were preferred.
- A surgical practice in New Jersey was seeking an ophthalmologist technician with three years of experience. Applicants needed to be familiar with ophthalmic photography as well as laser, pneumatic and cryo procedures.
- A private ophthalmology and optometry practice in North Carolina was in need of an ophthalmologist technician. Applicants with certification and experience were preferred.
How to Stand Out
Complete an Associate Degree Program
Recent job posts indicate that some employers prefer applicants who've earned an associate degree. These 2-year programs can include biology, anatomy and chemistry courses in addition to topics in ophthalmic technology. Program curricula might also include instruction in the software used to maintain electronic health records.
According to the JCAHPO, earning the Certified Ophthalmic Technician credential can enhance your employment prospects and earnings potential. To qualify for the certification exam, you need to either complete an approved training program or acquire work experience as a certified ophthalmologist assistant. This credential is available to applicants who pass an exam after completing a self-study course or formal training program.
Join a Professional Organization
You might also consider joining the Association of Technical Personnel in Ophthalmology (ATPO). This professional organization offers continuing education and job search resources, as well as opportunities to meet and network with others in the field.
Other Career Paths
Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician
If you'd like to work in the vision care field but aren't too keen on working with patients, you might consider becoming an ophthalmic laboratory technician. Also called manufacturing opticians, these professionals work behind the scenes to make eyeglasses and contact lenses according to patients' prescriptions. Most professionals working in this field have a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training. However, before pursuing this career path, be aware that ophthalmic laboratory technicians only earned around $30,000 a year, on average, as of May 2011. Employment growth of 13% was projected for this career field over the 2010-2020 decade, according to the BLS.
If you'd rather fit patients with eyeglasses than perform diagnostic tests, becoming a dispensing optician is another way to go. Typically, a high school diploma and on-the-job training will meet educational requirements for these positions; you may also need to pass a licensing exam in some states. The BLS reported that dispensing opticians earned considerably less than ophthalmologist technicians; their average salary was about $35,000 as of May 2011. However, you might be interested to learn that job opportunities for these professionals were expected to increase 29% over the 2010-2020 decade.