The Pros and Cons of Being an Optician Assistant
Optician assistants provide support services to licensed opticians. Learn more about the pros and cons of becoming an optician assistant to help you decide if the career is right for you.
|Pros of Being an Optician Assistant|
|No postsecondary education required (high school diploma or its equivalent is sufficient)*|
|Medical assistants, which includes optician assistants, were predicted to see employment growth of 29% from 2012-2022*|
|Little or no experience required*|
|Many employers offer on-the-job-training*|
|Cons of Being an Optician Assistant|
|Relatively low salary (most earned a yearly salary between $17,000 and $33,000)***|
|For some positions, evening and weekend schedules are required**|
|Not all employers will train or hire with no experience**|
|Employers typically prefer to hire candidates who have earned additional certification(s)*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics, **Multiple Job Postings (2012) ***PayScale.com December 2014
Job Description and Duties
Optician assistants support licensed opticians by following up on prescribed vision care, helping with frame selection and processing insurance forms. Additional administrative duties may include reception, billing and record keeping. They may also show customers how to insert contact lenses. Customer care is important, along with an interest in and eye for frame selection and fitting. While many employers prefer that optician assistants have some experience in an eye care or medical facility, quite a few provide on-the-job training.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare is one of the nation's largest industries, and growth is continually occurring, with 29,000 jobs added per month over 12 months between February 2014 and 2015. As part of the healthcare sector, opticianry will likely continue to grow to accommodate an aging population that needs greater care and ongoing health problems such as diabetes, allergies and glaucoma. In addition, eyewear continues to be fashionable, and eye care is covered by an increasing number of insurance carriers.
PayScale.com indicated that as of 2015, the majority of optician assistants earned a annual salary ranging from about $18,000-$33,000, which translates to hourly pay of about $9-$15. As with many occupations, the availability of optical assistant jobs and the earning power of these professionals are often related to experience. For example, in 2015, optical assistants at the entry level earned 9% less than the national average salary of $25,000, while those at the mid-career and experienced levels earned 11% and 14% more, respectively. Obtaining certification can positively affect your job prospects and salary, according to the BLS.
What Are the Requirements?
The minimum education requirement of a high school diploma provides the potential to begin a career in opticianry with little or no experience. For advancement, however, continuing education is often required. Voluntary certification programs are available, along with associate's degrees in related disciplines.
What Employers Are Looking for
While many employers are willing to train, they often look for candidates with strengths and interests in:
- Current eyewear fashion, for assistance with frame selection
- Good math skills, for measurements and billing
- Administration, for vision or medical insurance form processing and billing
Job Postings from Real Employers
A review of job postings obtained in June 2012 shows some trends in the optician assistant job market toward employers looking for candidates with good customer-relations skills and a keen interest in learning the vision care business. On-the-job training may be available for those who plan to continue their professional growth.
- A Missouri university is looking for an optician assistant to provide customer service in eyewear selection, prescription interpretation and other vision-related follow-up. A high school diploma and 1 year of experience are required, along with knowledge of eye-care related medications, devices and terminology.
- In Ohio, a medical services practice is seeking an optician assistant to help patients with optical needs, such as prescription follow-up and eyewear selection. A high school diploma and six months experience are required, and the work schedule includes Saturdays.
- A Virginia doctor is looking for an optical assistant to fill a full-time opening. Experience is desired, but the employer will train the right person who is eager to learn the business. Good math skills and fashion sense are required.
- A new optometric practice in Wyoming is seeking an optician/optometric assistant for customer support in administrative and vision services. Responsibilities include reception, scheduling, eyewear selection and eyeglass adjustments. The position is part-time, with full-time potential, and schedule includes some evening and weekend work. Familiarity with vision insurance and office software is a plus.
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
Develop Related Skills
Even though you only need a high school diploma and a little experience to begin your career as an optician assistant, you can stand out and advance your career in many ways. If you're still in high school, try getting an apprenticeship or part-time job in a vision care store, so that by the time you graduate you'll have the basic knowledge and skills for your career path. You might also want to start paying close attention to eyeglass and contact lens fashion trends, and, if needed, work on your math skills.
If you've already completed high school, you might be able to find employment with a company that's willing to train you, but keep in mind the importance of certification in basic eye care and vision correction. The BLS indicates that employers prefer to hire certified assistants. The American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE) offer certifications in eye care, which establish that you have met a set of national standards. To obtain certification, you need to pass an exam. Exam preparation is self-guided, and the associations provide study materials.
Pursuing associated training and qualifications can also allow you to advance into a higher position, such as dispensing optician, which may also require state licensure. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for a dispensing optician in May 2011 was about $33,000, and employment was predicted to grow by 29% between 2010 and 2020. Here are some examples of additional training you can consider, which can prepare you for different kinds of vision care certifications:
- Online optician courses can be completed in 6-24 weeks. Such programs offer studies in key areas of eye care, guidance in different types of optical certifications and assistance with job placement.
- Continuing education programs through colleges and universities provide training in vision care and vision technology. Typically, these are 1-year programs.
- Colleges and universities also offer associate degree programs in vision care and vision technology. These are usually 2-year programs.
Other Careers to Consider
Ophthalmic Lab Technician
If you're interested in creating eyewear, rather than recommending it, you may want to consider a career as an ophthalmic lab technician. Also known as bench opticians, these professionals create, cut and shape eyeglasses and contact lenses.
As with optician assistants, the education requirements for ophthalmic lab technicians are minimal. With a high school diploma, you can begin employment and receive on-the-job training. However, high school classes in industrial arts, design and computer technology are usually necessary. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for ophthalmic laboratory technicians in May 2011 was about $29,000, and employment for these professionals was predicted to increase 13% between 2010 and 2020.
Paraoptometric Assistant or Technician
If you think you'd like to work directly with an optometrist - the doctor who examines eyes and prescribes vision problem correction - you may want to consider becoming a paraoptometric assistant or technician. These professionals assist optometrists with their day-to-day duties. For these careers, a high school diploma is needed, although many seek additional training through a formal associate's degree program or voluntary certification through the American Optometric Association. PayScale.com reports that, as of June 2012, the majority of certified paraoptometric technicians (CPOT) earned between $19,000 and $34,000 annually (www.payscale.com).