Optician vs. Optometrist

There are a lot of differences when it comes to an optician and an optometrist. These differences are evident in the job duties, educational requirements and pay rates between opticians and optometrists. The names of these two separate distinctions may sound similar, but they are really vastly different. The type of service provided to customers also differs as opticians do not have the same authority as optometrists do. That does not diminish the importance of an optician as they can be considered the individuals who keep vision care centers running smoothly. Opticians interact with customers more than optometrists, which places a major amount of importance on their jobs.

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Optician Education

Opticians and optometrists differ immensely in the educational path each is required to take. Opticians need to complete an apprenticeship program that generally lasts six months in duration, or they could choose to complete a certificate program that lasts a year. An opticianry certificate program is available through a variety of post-secondary schools. There is also the option of earning an Associate’s Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing, which lasts two years. There are a number of community colleges that offer this two-year degree throughout the United States.

Optometrists have a much longer educational journey. They have to first earn a Bachelor’s Degree before moving on to Optometry school, where they must complete a four-year program to earn a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.). This is, however, a shorter endeavor than going to medical school, which is required of ophthalmologists.

The cost of education between opticians and optometrists is not even close. Optometrists are required to complete eight years of schooling and that comes with high tuition rates that leave many optometrists with a lot of debt once they finally enter the profession. Opticians are not encumbered with such a high amount of debt because the cost of their schooling is minimal in comparison.

Optometrists make a salary that is more than twice as much as opticians, although the amount of schooling involved may leave them with a lower level of income for a number of years before they can begin practicing. Opticians can start making money much sooner than optometrists.

For example, opticians can complete one year of schooling and then earn seven years’ worth of salary before an optometrist, who starts their schooling at the same time, can make a single penny. During the time when they are in school, optometrists are quickly accumulating more and more debt. Meanwhile, opticians are already earning a comfortable salary. The long-term earning potential is much higher for optometrists, but getting to that point can be a long time coming, which can include a high amount of debt and a low amount of income.

Optician License

One similarity between opticians and optometrists is that both need to be licensed, in almost half of the states throughout the country. Optometrists are required to hold a license in each state, although just 21 states require opticians to hold a license. The process for obtaining an optometrist license is more extensive, although opticians also have to appeal to a state board in order to earn that distinction. These licenses are also subject to renewal and each state board specifies when that needs to occur. The remaining states do not require opticians to hold a license and in those locations, it is up to each hiring business to determine their own criteria for employing opticians. National certifications are available through the American Board of Opticianry and this can make opticians into more appealing job candidates.

Optician vs. Optometrist Job Duties

An optician and an optometrist work in conjunction with one another at a vision care center or in a private practice. An optometrist is in charge of fitting customers with eyewear. That not only means sizing up glasses, but it also applies to taking prescriptions and using that information to put together eyeglasses and contact lenses. Meanwhile, optometrists are the ones who write those prescriptions.

Optometrists examine the eyes of patients and then diagnose their conditions. This is done by testing their vision and conducting an analysis of the results. Optometrists have the training to diagnose such conditions as glaucoma, eye diseases and astigmatisms. There are no diagnoses conducted by opticians, although they do ensure that patient prescriptions are correctly applied when putting together their corrective eyewear. The tools used by opticians and optometrists are also different. However, a top-quality optician can make the job of an optometrists a much easier one. Opticians can be a big part of the success of a vision care center.

How much do opticians make?

The salary component is quite different between opticians and optometrists. The national average salary of a dispensing optician is $37,860 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average salary of an optometrist checks in at $117,580 annually. However, there is more earning potential for opticians than that national average. The highest paying state for opticians is Massachusetts with an annual income that exceeds $60,000 and that is just the average. Experienced opticians can make higher annual salaries and the location and type of vision care center also has a lot to do with the exact pay rate. There remains a heightened need for new opticians and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a job growth of 24% by the year 2024. Optometrist job growth is not as high, but still shows an anticipated increase of 14% by 2024.


American Board of Opticianry

The ABO issues certifications for dispensing opticians and is one of the most recognized names in the industry.

Commission on Opticianry Accreditation

Accreditation of opticians is becoming a more popular area and this commission provides the information for credentialing throughout the country.

Contact Lens Society of America

This society focuses on contact lens technology, with a wealth of news, resources and information.

Opticians Association of America

This longtime association continues to be dedicated to the advancement of opticians and is open to dispensing opticians in the U.S.