Steps to Become an Optician in Alaska
Alaska opticians design, adapt, measure, and fit lenses and frames for patients according to their eye health needs. This is determined by a written prescription from the doctor, which the optician must be able to interpret and analyze to create the right lenses for each customer. They assist people with contact lens training and use, spectacle lens and frame selection, and other needs in their visit to the eye doctor or a retail eyewear store. They often work in a laboratory setting, where they will use advanced equipment to cut and mount lenses, verify finished products, and adjust lenses and frames as needed.
In Alaska, opticians will begin by working in an apprentice role, where they will train under a licensed optician to learn the practical applications of the job. They will study for up to two or more years, and then take an exam that is offered by the American Board of Opticianry in order to become a licensed optician. They may or may not work with contact lenses, as this is designated in a separate exam offered by the National Contact Lens Examiners.
In Alaska, all opticians-to-be are required to attend a formal education or training program. They must complete a high school diploma or equivalent and a course that is specifically designated by the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development and approved as a part of certification and licensure. These programs are offered by the National Academy of Opticianry and the Contact Lens Society of America.
Opticians in Alaska may also forego the experience requirements by instead obtaining an associate’s degree in an accredited opticianry or optical technology program. Of course, many employers prefer that you obtain education and an apprenticeship in order to gain employment as a licensed dispensing optician (LDO) in their organization. The education will cover all areas of the scope of work, including patient education, optics and physics, and anatomy and biology courses as they relate to eye health and the creation and use of prescription lenses.
Optician Certification Requirements
In order to become certified, Alaska opticians must pass the examinations offered by the National Contact Lens Examiners and the American Board of Opticianry. The scores must be 70% or higher, and all fees and related applications must be filed accordingly before taking the exams. Each exam is offered twice per year, and the entire test can be done on the computer. They cost approximately $200 per exam, but some employers offer apprenticeship or training programs that will help pay for these exams. Be sure to ask your employer about this if you are already working in an optical role.
The ABO offers exams for beginners, intermediate, and advanced opticians in Alaska and throughout the United States. Passing the appropriate level of exam will result in becoming certified as a dispensing optician. Those who wish to also work with contact lenses must pass the exam offered by the NCLE, which is entirely separate from the ABO examination. Certification exams will cover analysis and interpretation of prescriptions, fitting and dispensing lenses and glasses, and use of equipment in the optometry industry. Other areas that will be tested on include patient education, technical application, optical physics, and related topics.
Meeting State Licensing Requirements
Opticians in Alaska must be licensed through the ABO in order to practice. They must also pass exams to become licensed by the NCLE for contact lens dispensing and fitting. According to state guidelines, to become an LDO, individuals must meet the following requirements:
- -High school diploma or equivalent
- -1,800 apprentice hours
- -Passing of the NAO and/or CLSA exams
- -Obtaining an associate’s degree in optical technology or opticianry (may be substituted for apprentice experience or on-the-job training)
Some employers actually would prefer their opticians to have both the degree and the practical experience, so do not just rest on what the state says is required. You will need to make sure that you meet the requirements of your employer (or potential employer) as well. The Opticians Association of Alaska has plenty of resources and information to help you get the certification and training that you deserve.
Optician Job Prospects and Potential Pay
Opticians in Alaska earn less than the national average, as the demand here is not as high. The average starting salary for an optician in the state is around $10-$12 per hour. Those who have more experience or training will often earn higher salaries. Experienced opticians and those in management roles can easily earn up to $18 per hour for their skills. The highest annual salary reported for opticians in Alaska is $40,000, with most opticians averaging around $26,000 per year.
The job outlook in Alaska is slightly lower than the national average in this field, which is expected because of the limited population and lack of demand for the role in the state. There is growth potential for opticians, with expected rates of around 4-6% growth through 2025. Those who have more education and training will find more opportunities to grow their careers than those with minimum required certification and education.
Maintaining Proficiency Through Education
There are no formal requirements on the books for continuing education in Alaska, but opticianry is a field that is always growing and developing. As such, it is important for you to maintain your knowledge of the industry. You can do this by attending courses and training programs, taking courses in opticianry or related fields, and even attending various conventions and seminars throughout the year offered by various optical associations and organizations.
There are many free and cheap continuing education programs available online to help solely with education. Of course, attending seminars and conventions like the national, ABO-sponsored OptiCon is going to further your industry knowledge and networking in a different way than a classroom program might. As such, it is important that you take advantage of all continuing education programs. You can also continue to take the ABO exams for intermediate and advanced opticians if you want to increase your earnings or your licensure reputation. License renewal is required every two years, but that simply involves an additional registration and renewal fee. The Opticians Association of Alaska has plenty of resources to help you maximize your education and training for a successful career as an optician.