Choosing a career as an optician can lead to an exciting future filled with competitive pay and job stability for years to come. When that decision is made, it is then time to choose an opticianry school. There are many different campus locations in each state that will prepare students for a career as a dispensing optician.
Opticians gain employment in a variety of settings and the most popular workplace is a vision care store. Many shopping malls are equipped with retail vision stores which require the services of dispensing opticians. A private ophthalmologist practice also needs the service of trained opticians. And optometrists who go into private practice also house a staff of opticians.
Optician School Education and Training
Opticianry programs are generally offered by two-year schools and the majority of programs conclude with the awarding of an Associate’s Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing. These programs typically last four semesters when students attend on a full-time basis. The schools provide classroom instruction while there are also clinical phases as well.
Opticianry education is offered by community colleges, junior colleges, four-year colleges, technical schools and vocational institutes throughout the country. Upon completion of the program, students will qualify to take the National Opticianry Competency Examination offered by the ABO-NCLE. In any of the 23 states where licensing is required, the programs will also prepare students to suffice those requirements.
- Accredited Schools – It is important to seek out a training program that has been accredited by the US Department of Education (USDE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Programs that offer clinical phases must also ensure that both institutions are accredited.
Learning objectives are included in the two-year curriculum that is designed to prepare students for everything they will need to use in this profession. Some students may attend on a part-time basis, although it is up to the discretion of each individual school to specify a minimum number of credits per semester.
Students may also choose to attend a post-secondary school that offers an opticianry certificate program. These programs take less time to complete than ones that conclude with an Associate’s Degree. The reason for this is that many of the core classes required in those colleges are not necessary to complete within a certification program.
Certificate programs also prepare students to take examinations that will earn them national certifications. These classes are also taught by experienced opticians and cover the same areas of study available through a two-year Associate’s program. Students who graduate with a certificate will also need to satisfy the clinical education requirements. Many certificate programs offer clinical instruction, which typically occurs at a local vision care store or practice.
Optician School Admission
Each optician school has different requirements, although the most common qualification is a high school diploma or GED equivalency. Some schools follow the protocol of their overall academic guidelines, which typically requires going through the complete application process. That could mean writing an additional essay, providing proof of standardized test scores or taking a placement test.
There are some optician programs that have limited spots available and these institutions can be more selective with the students they accept. As a result, students may be required to apply to the specific opticianry program. A small committee or program director will then decide on which applicants are granted entrance into the program. Some programs have specific start dates, which usually occur at the outset of the fall semester. Some schools only allow new students to begin at that point in time.
Certified Optician Areas of Study
All programs have their own unique and individualized classes, although mostly all schools adhere to the same teaching concepts. Throughout the entirety of the opticianry education program, students will be taught many disciplines, including the following.
- Contact Lens Fitting and Modification
- Contact Lens and Dispensing Theory
- Geometric Optics
- Ocular Pathology
- Ophthalmic Materials
- Ophthalmic Optics
- Opticianry Sales Techniques
- Professional Ethics
Optician School Coursework and Instruction
Dispensing Optician programs include coursework that features classroom instruction. Within the classroom, students learn all the concepts that are a necessary part of the job. This material teaches how to identify specific eye conditions while also providing a comprehensive understanding of all eye functions. The interpretation of customer prescriptions is covered in depth as opticians use this skill during their everyday work assignments.
Contact Lens dispensing is included in this coursework as schools spend a good deal of time focusing on this area. Students also learn about optical physics, eye diseases and the specifics of optical lab work. Before students can begin clinical practice that teaches how to mend, repair and shape glasses, there is a need to build a foundation of knowledge.
Optician Training and Clinical Instruction
Some optician training programs are equipped with their own lab and facilities. At these locations, reduced prices are usually provided to the public so that opticians in training can gain some much-needed experience. However, many training programs work in conjunction with local vision care stores and ophthalmologists. This allows students to gain Clinical experience by working in a real-world setting. This portion of the education extends beyond the classroom and provides hands-on training.
- Communication – There is more to being an optician than just acquiring technical knowledge. The customer-oriented aspect demands that opticians utilize a certain set of skills. This requires listening to customer requests and explaining all the available options that can be geared towards meeting those requests.
- Management – An optician’s duties also extend to business components within a vision care center. Opticians may be entrusted with inventory control and handling the sales process.
- Dexterity – Opticians use tools that are specific to the professions. These tools are used to repair and adjust frames, which makes it essential for opticians to possess some level of dexterity as well as good hand-eye coordination.
There are programs that offer distance learning options as students can complete coursework from the comfort of their homes. These programs are combined with some clinical instruction as there is a need to master certain hands-on aspects of the job. For example, students need to learn how to take correct eye and facial measurements. There is also a need to fit corrective eyewear on actual people and demonstrate proficient use of optical equipment.
Optician School Internships/Externships
To meet the demand of obtaining clinical experience, some schools allow students to complete internships and externships. This needs to be approved by the school’s program director and often takes place at a nearby vision care center. Internships and externships allow students to gain actual experience to prepare them for what they will deal with on an everyday basis as a dispensing optician.
Licensed Optician State Requirements
About half of the states require opticians to obtain a license in order to work as a dispensing optician. Schools located in these states prepare students to meet the demands set forth by that particular licensing board. This also means taking the proper steps needed to procure a license. Those who attend a school in a state that does not require licensing will still learn the same basic principles, although there will be no additional process in terms of licensing.
The median pay in the United States for a dispensing optician is $35,530 annually, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there is the opportunity to earn more than that amount as location plays a key role in annual salaries. The state of California is home to the highest annual optician salaries with an average of $41,010 per year. The type of establishment is also a factor as some private practices pay more than vision care retail stores. Job growth is extremely high as the entire profession is expected to grow by 15% over the next decade. Across the country, there are new optician jobs opening up every day.
In states where there is no license required, students can still earn a certification after the completion of their training. The American Board of Opticianry (ABO), offers continuing education and certifications of its own. Candidates must pass examinations with a certain score to earn this distinction. An Associate’s Degrees in Ophthalmic Dispensing passes for an acceptable form of certification among employers. However, this should not be confused with a license as opticians will still need to go through the licensing process in states where it is applicable. When seeking out employment, it helps to have some sort of certification as employers typically look for some kind of credential in prospective opticians.