Ophthalmic Assistant

There are a wealth of opportunities when you become an ophthalmic assistant as it is a job that continues to be in demand throughout the United States. Choosing this career path can immediately provide you with an entry-level position and begin an upward journey through the field of eye care. Becoming an ophthalmic assistant can lead to advancement as it serves as the starting point for careers as an ophthalmic technician or ophthalmic technologist. Starting off in this career now can lead to a future filled with job stability and competitive pay for years to come.

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Ophthalmic Assistant Job Duties

The job duties of an ophthalmic assist consist of collecting patient information while also updating medical records. There is a certain amount of office work involved, but job duties also range to more technical aspects. For example, an ophthalmic assistant is required to take patients’ ocular measurements and may also be asked to administer some medications. Many of the tasks assigned to an ophthalmic assistant are of a supportive nature as they assist ophthalmologists in a number of ways.

Patient education is also a job requirement as ophthalmic assistants offer important information regarding glasses, eye care and contact lenses. That means that the last person patients see during their visit is often an ophthalmic assistant. In a similar manner, patients usually encounter an ophthalmic assistant when they first enter an ophthalmologist practice or vision care center. This requires a certain level of people skills as communication is a key part of the job. This complements the more technical aspects of being an ophthalmic assistant as it is multi-faceted.

Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA)

There is more than one route to take to becoming a certified ophthalmic assistant. The first path involves on-the-job training in which a vision care center will hire new ophthalmic assistants and train them accordingly. Some vision care centers and ophthalmologists are not willing to spend the time introducing new employees to all the job essentials. As a result, most vision care centers look to hire ophthalmic assistants with some kind of formal training. In the event that you are able to receive on-the-job training, you will be able to use that experience to take a national certification.

There are also a variety of ophthalmic assistant training programs that teach all the specifics that come with this job. Certifications are not mandatory, but are preferred by most employers. Completing an ophthalmic assistant training program can take up to a year, although there are some programs that are shorter in duration.

During the training in an ophthalmic assistant certification program, students will learn the proper ways to document patient histories, in addition to more technical components that go along with the job. Pupil assessments, visual acuity measurements and the appropriate ways to administer medications will all be taught to students in an ophthalmic assistant training program. These programs are offered through numerous adult learning centers, technical institutes, vocational schools and select community colleges.

Passing a COA examination is necessary for certification and that exam is offered nationally by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology. In order to earn a passing score, candidates must be well-versed in the areas of pachymetry, glare testing, tear tests, laser interferometry and much more. A total of 19 content areas are included on the examination, which also has approximately 90 areas of sub content. Even experienced ophthalmic assistants are recommended to study thoroughly as this examination is very technical.

Once a certification is earned, a number of opportunities will begin to open up. Vision Care Centers are routinely on the lookout for ophthalmic assistants who can prove they are prepared to take on all that is required in this profession. This will also provide to be an advantage when competing against non-certified applicants for an ophthalmic assistant position.

Ophthalmic Assistant Pay Scale

The U.S, Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary for medical assistants and does not go into detail regarding ophthalmic assistants. The average salary for medical assistants checks in at $32,850 annually with the top percentage of professionals in that field earning $45,310. An ophthalmic assistant can generally expect to earn an average salary that is more than the average for a regular medical assistant. Estimates show that the average salary of a certified ophthalmic assistant falls close to $36,000 annually, while non-certified ophthalmic assistants make closer to $33,000 per year. That differs according to geographic location as there are some positions that exceed that estimated average. Most ophthalmic assistants work in vision care centers while others work in private practices. With the growing rate of eye care centers throughout the country, the job of an ophthalmic assistant is one that continues to expand.

Ongoing Education and Career Advancement

Earning a COA is basically a way of entering this profession as it can be the first step towards a productive and rewarding career. In order to become certified as an ophthalmic technician, individuals need to have previous experience working as a certified ophthalmic assistant. Becoming an ophthalmic assistant is the beginning if a new career, but it also serves as training for career advancement.

Ophthalmic Assistant Education

In order to become a certified ophthalmic assistant, a high school diploma or GED equivalency should be attained. Those who are looking to become certified through on the job training are also required to show proof of continuing education credits. Proof of work experience is another requirement and that must include signed authorization by a practicing ophthalmologist. The COA is a national distinction, although it is not mandated in any state. Ophthalmologists are free to hire whomever they choose as assistants. However, those who have received some type of formal education are often seen as more qualified job candidates. There are typically no educational requirements to enter into an ophthalmic assistant training program as each facility sets their own standards for admission.


American Academy of Ophthalmology

COA Study Guide

International Council of Ophthalmology

Ophthalmology Web