What is an Optician?

An optician is the first person people will encounter when seeking out vision care. Opticians are directly involved in customer service and most work in vision care stores. Meanwhile, there are other opticians who work for optometrists that practice in more of a medical setting. However, opticians frequently spend more time with customers than anyone else during the vision care experience. But the role of an optometrist is not only limited to customer service.

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Optometrists have technical knowledge that enables them to dispense eyewear to customers. Opticians take measurements and help customers select the eyewear that suits them best. These measurements apply to the thickness of the cornea and other parts of the eye. Opticians are also able to interpret prescriptions that have been issued by optometrists and ophthalmologists. This allows them to create orders that are to be carried out by lab techs. Opticians also have the knowledge to detect some problems with the eye, although they do not provide any kind of patient care.

Opticians play a variety of different roles and are often the ones who keep a vision care center running smoothly. This is accomplished by keeping proper track of prescriptions, appointments and even inventory. Customers with broken frames can also turn to opticians to provide the necessary repairs. And before customers leave a vision care center, opticians can provide insight on how to care for their eyewear.

Optician Training

The path to becoming an optician begins with earning a high school degree or GED equivalency. This is not a nationwide requirement, although most opticians have this kind of background before starting out their opticianry training. There are three different options that will lead to a career as a dispensing optician. The first route is to obtain an optician certificate through a post-secondary school program. These programs typically last one year and cover all the essentials that come with working as an optician. Optician certificate programs are available through numerous technical schools, vocational institutes, adult learning centers and community colleges.

The second educational route is to acquire an Associate’s Degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing, which is offered by a select number of colleges that have been accredited by the commission on Opticianry Accreditation. This is typically a two-year program that focuses on subject areas such as optical principles and terminology, contact lens dispensing, eyewear fabrication, physiology of the eye and much more.

The third and final route to becoming a dispensing optician is to attain an apprenticeship, which is essentially on-the-job training. Apprentices obtain a position working under the supervision of an ophthalmologist or optometrist in a vision care center or private practice. Completing an apprenticeship requires a specified number of hours and will prove as a sufficient credential to many vision care centers across the country. Apprenticeships became popular because there has been a lack of formal opticianry educational programs. Apprenticeship standards vary because they are established by the ophthalmologist or optometrist who oversees the process. Many apprentices continue to work as opticians in the same place where they completed their apprenticeship.

Optician Jobs

Optician jobs are available at vision care centers all over the country. These eye care businesses are located in shopping centers, malls and individual business locations. Opticians may also find work for ophthalmologists or optometrists in a private practice setting. In order to attain an optician job, a license is required in 21 states. These states all have different requirements for obtaining a license as they are established by individual state boards. In the states that do not require a license, the hiring vision care center sets the criteria for the hiring process.

In addition to achieving a degree or certification from an opticianry post-secondary program, national certifications are also offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). It is not mandatory to possess an ABO certification to work as an optician, although it enhances one’s credentials and could increase the chance of obtaining an optician job.

Optician Salary

Optician jobs come with an average salary of $37,860 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is more earning potential for experienced opticians and different states offer higher pay rates as well. Massachusetts is currently the highest paying state for opticians, with an average annual salary of $60,740. The state of New Jersey comes in second with an average salary of $53,770 annually. Optician salaries are generally higher in metropolitan areas, although the success of a vision care center has a lot to do with the pay rate.

Opticians are also experiencing a greater than average job growth. There is expected to be a 27% increase in optician jobs by the year 2024, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This anticipated increase has opened up a lot of new job opportunities as the profession is providing more job stability to coincide with the industry growth.

Optician vs Optometrist

Many people confuse opticians and optometrists, although they are two completely different job distinctions. Optometrists have heightened responsibilities and they are often the ones who hire opticians to work under them. An optometrist is an eye doctor, which requires a lot more schooling and leads to earning the title of Doctor of Optometry. Optometrists do not have to go to medical school, although they do need to complete four years of optometry school after their undergraduate studies. Opticians will attend two years of formal education at the most and work under the direction of an optometrist, who is trained to examine and diagnose patients. Optometrists are the ones who write eye prescriptions, while opticians do not have a similar level of authority.


American Board of Opticians

The ABO is an organization that certifies opticians, who are looking to upgrade their credentials and its website offers a wealth of information about that process.

Opticians Association of America

Founded in 1926, this association is dedicated to the field of opticianry and the advancement of its practices, rules and relationships.

Commission on Opticianry Accreditation

This commission handles the accreditation of opticians and sets the standards of practice in the industry.

Contact Lens Society of America

This society combines a network of professionals who work in the vision care sector.