The path to becoming an ophthalmic technician is one that can lead to a long-lasting career that features job security and competitive pay. This job distinction marks the second stage in the ophthalmic profession and can be attained in a couple of different ways. This field is also steadily growing as more and more ophthalmic technicians are joining the workforce every year. Ophthalmic technicians typically find employment in vision care centers, private ophthalmologist practices and outpatient care centers. This exciting and productive future is only a few short steps away.
Ophthalmic Technician Job Duties
An ophthalmic technician is a versatile employee who plays an important role in patient care. That role includes familiarizing patients with eye care procedures they will undergo or experience while in an eye care center. This includes providing explanations of procedures and answering patient questions. Taking patient histories and updating medical fall into the job duties as well. In order to perform all the job duties, ophthalmic technicians are expected to be well versed in a number of areas.
An ophthalmic technician also attends to more technical aspects of the job. Measurements are conducted and they include taking A-scans as well as fundus photography. Ophthalmic technicians also conduct brightness acuity tests and contrast sensitivity tests. Providing assistance during surgeries is another integral role taken on by ophthalmic technicians. The sterilization of instruments, prepping of exam rooms and disposal of biohazards are a few more duties that fall on the shoulders of ophthalmic technicians.
An ophthalmic technician is also capable of performing administrative tasks, ordering inventory, calibrating equipment and other miscellaneous office duties. This leads to a well-rounded repertoire of job skills as an ophthalmic technician provides value in numerous ways. Furthermore, the ophthalmic distinction signifies that an individual is skilled enough to handle various instruments such as tomographs, exophthalmometers, occluders, OCT scanners, snipe nose pliers, in addition to many others. The technical nature of the job is extremely important to patient care, which is why ophthalmic technicians need to be properly trained.
Ophthalmic Technician Education
Starting out as an ophthalmic technician begins with the awarding of a high school diploma or GED equivalency. Classroom training to become an ophthalmic technician includes a concentration on medical terminology, ocular anatomy and physiology, eye diseases, ophthalmic optics, ocular motility, ophthalmic toxicology and more.
Those who earn the distinction of ophthalmic assistant are required to work for at least a year before being considered for the role of an ophthalmic technician. The actual work experience serves as training and the work that is done by a technician builds the foundation that was first established as an assistant. Technicians are capable of doing more with optics and instruments. Assistants who embark on this type of on-the-job training take an alternative route to traditional education.
There is also the option of going to school to become an ophthalmic technician, which would eliminate the need to serve as an assistant. There are a number of two-year colleges throughout the country that offer an Ophthalmic Medical Technician Associate’s Degree. The coursework includes classes on ocular motility, refractometry, special diagnostics, surgical assistance and there is also a clinical externship involved. Full-time students can complete their degree requirements through four full-time semesters.
Once an Associate’s Degree is earned, graduates typically move to the front of the line when it comes to applying for technician jobs. The value of that degree can go a long way when entering into the field as an ophthalmic technician as so much of the job duties are covered through traditional classroom instruction and clinical experience that is provided through an Associate’s program. Each college sets its own standards for admissions policies and may require previous test scores or the taking of an entrance exam.
Certified Ophthalmic Technician (COT)
This is actually the second distinction that can be earned by those in the ophthalmic field. The first level consists of earning a COA and then a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant can advance his/her career by eventually earning as COT. The examination that must be passed to earn the COT distinction consists of two parts. The first part features 200 multiple choice questions and the second part evaluates seven different skill areas. The examination is five hours in duration and is offered by the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology. In order to qualify to take the exam, candidates must meet all the requirements set forth by that organization. That means earning a two-year Associate’s Degree or completing so many work hours as an ophthalmic assistant.
Some states require their ophthalmic technicians to be licensed. There is a process that follows and each individual state has set forth its own guidelines. There is a certain level of skill needed to perform the duties and handle the instruments used by ophthalmic technicians. Therefore, ophthalmologists and vision care centers are often reluctant to consider non-certified technicians for employment. The awarding of an Associate’s Degree does not guarantee certification, but prepares and qualifies candidates to take the COT exam.
Ophthalmic Technician Pay Scale/Job Opportunities
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual salary of an ophthalmic technician at $37,040 annually. However, there is significant room for advancement as the top 10% report average salaries over $51,000 per year. The highest paying state for ophthalmic technicians is Minnesota, which has an average salary of $44,990 per year. That is followed by Hawaii, Washington, Connecticut and Wisconsin, all of which meet or exceed average salaries of $42,740 per year.
There are roughly 44,000 ophthalmic technicians currently employed within the United States. The highest population of ophthalmic technicians exists in Texas and that is followed by California, Florida, North Carolina and Illinois. There is also expected to be a dramatic increase in the number of positions available over the next six years. A rise in demand is expected to result in upwards of 20% more ophthalmic technicians working in the United States by the year 2024.