Whether you call her an optical assistant, an optometrist assistant or a paraoptometrics assistant, you know this medical professional as the woman who gets your eye doctor appointment started. Depending on the practice size, she may greet you at the counter, administer preliminary tests and a vision check before the optometrist or ophthalmologist examines your eyes. Then, before you leave, she helps you to find frames that fit and look great.
Like most medical assistants, the OA is a critical part of any eye practice. She's often the person who greets you at check-in, though larger practices may have a full-time receptionist up front. She also handles many administrative tasks behind the scenes. She must be detail-oriented enough to juggle scheduling patients, billing, filing and maintaining medical records and working with insurance claims. Organization and people skills are equally important. Be ready to manage inventory, order supplies and keep the instruments and optometric equipment clean and ready to use.
Though the title optical assistant sounds confusingly close to "optician" -- the professional trained to fit patients for eye glasses -- as an OA you'll administer basic tests for color blindness, near and far vision acuity, depth perception and screen for macular health at the start of eye exams. In smaller offices, you'll also do the optician's job, helping patients select new glasses, and also teaching them how to insert and care for contact lenses.
Training and Certification
You'll need at least a high school diploma. While some OAs learn on the job, you will be a more competitive candidate after completing a formal training or certification program. The American Optometric Association has a list of colleges and vocational schools with accredited OA programs on its website, and also offers its own certification course. Some universities, such as Indiana University, offer two year OA certification programs within their graduate optometry schools.
Job Outlook and Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects strong job growth for all medical assistants through 2020. At 31 percent growth, or 162,900 new jobs, that's better than double the predicted 14 percent average job growth rate for all U.S. professions in the same time. In 2010, medical assistants made a median annual wage of $28,850, or $18.87 per hour, with the highest 10 percent making more $40,000, according to the agency.
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