Certified Optical Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a certified optical assistant career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a certified optical assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Optical Assistant

Optical assistants, also known as optometric assistants, are medical assistants that work with optometrists and perform basic clinical and administrative tasks. You can learn the pros and cons to being a certified optical assistant by reading below.

PROS of Becoming a Certified Optical Assistant
Minimal education and training requirements to get started*
Some employers provide on-the-job training*
Good job outlook (29% from 2012-2022)*
Opportunity to help improve the lives of others by helping them with eye care*

CONS of Becoming a Certified Optical Assistant
Weekend and evening work assignments can occur depending on the work hours of your employer*
To earn certification, you must meet minimal work experience requirements and pass an examination*
Income potential is below the national average*
Routine tasks can be seen as repetitive*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

By assisting optometrists, certified optical assistants help with a customer's eye care. For example, when a patient receives contact lenses, the certified optical assistant demonstrates how to care for the contact lenses along with their removal and insertion. Certified optical assistants also handle many administrative tasks, such as taking down a patient's information or helping them schedule an appointment. Optometrists might need assistance with something at anytime during work hours, which will require flexibility.

Job Outlook

From 2012 to 2022, all medical assistants are projected to see an employment growth of 29%, according to the BLS. In comparison to other jobs, the growth for medical assistant employment is much faster than average. A growing aging population is thought to be one of the main reasons behind this employment growth since preventive services are going to be needed for the population.

Salary Info

The average salary for all medical assistants was approximately $31,000 in May 2014, according to the BLS. In the same year, the states that paid the highest salaries on average for medical assistants were Connecticut, Washington, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and Alaska. Physicians' offices, such as ophthalmologists and optometrists, offered an average salary of around $31,000 in that year.

Occupational Requirements

Education and Training

A high school diploma or a GED is the minimum amount of education a certified optical assistant needs. You'll ideally want to take some classes in biology and chemistry. Some certified optical assistants choose to seek out a certificate or an associate's degree program at a vocational school or a community college. These types of programs normally require you to learn about anatomy and medical terminology in a laboratory and classroom setting. Many certified optical assistants acquire their skills by completing some training after being hired. An experienced optical assistant generally teaches a new hire, and the training process can take a couple of months depending on the formats and records the office uses.

What are Employers Looking For?

Interpersonal communication is an important skill many employers want in certified optical assistants. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively to co-workers while being warm and friendly to customers is also important. You need to be able to understand the files and charts used by your employer, which will require attention to detail and analytical skills. If you're wondering what real employers were looking for, you can read some information below which was summarized from November 2012 job postings.

  • An optical assistant position in Tennessee required applicants with integrity, quality focus and thoroughness as well as at least 1-2 years of experience
  • Customer service and sales experience was necessary for an optical assistant job in West Virginia
  • A Massachusetts business needed an optical assistant to act as a liaison between the staff and customers; knowledge of optics and customer service experience was preferred
  • In California, an opening for an optical assistant required experience in an ophthalmology or optometry office, as well as one year of medical office experience.

How Can You Stand Out as an Optical Assistant

By obtaining certification, you can stand out from other optical assistants. Organizations like the American Optometric Association (AOA) offer certification options. The Certified Paraoptometric (CPO) credential requires you to have a minimum of six months of work experience and a high school diploma. The multiple-choice examination you have to pass for this designation is 100 questions long. Another certification you might want to consider is the Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA) option. When pursuing this certification, you'll have to complete a 200-question test as well as have the Certified Paraoptometric designation and an additional six months of work experience.

Other Vocational Options

A dispensing optician is a similar career that offers slightly higher salary potential. In this role, you'll help customers find the right contact lenses or eyeglasses. Dispensing opticians also follow the necessary prescriptions to make sure that a customer gets the correct one. Some states require dispensing opticians to be licensed. The employment growth for this occupation should be 29% from 2010-2020, and the BLS reported in May 2011 that dispensing opticians made around $35,000 on average.

If you're willing to earn a doctorate and a state license, you could look into becoming an optometrist. Injuries, diseases and disorders of the eye are examined and treated by optometrists. If necessary, you can prescribe medications, contact lenses or eyeglasses as methods of treatment for a patient. In May 2011, the BLS found that optometrists earned roughly $108,000 annually on average and had a projected employment growth of 33% from 2010-2020.

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