Just like doctors rely on medical assistants and nurses to help them care for patients, an ophthalmologist employs ophthalmic technicians to assist with certain job duties. With normal 9-to-5 hours, room for advancement and short time needed to earn a degree, positions as ophthalmic technicians are ideal for women looking to get back into the workforce, as well as those wanting a medical-related career and a chance to help people. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women already make up 50 percent of all medical, dental and ophthalmic technicians, as of 2012.
Learning the tools of the trade is essential for success as an ophthalmic technician. Some employers will provide on-the-job training, but most prefer to hire techs who have undergone a specialized educational program. Ophthalmic tech programs generally confer an associate degree from community colleges, vocational schools and four-year colleges and universities. Along with general education courses, students must take classes in anatomy and physiology of the eye, medical terminology, ocular pharmacology and other related courses. Most programs also require students to participate in an internship or clinical program to gain hands-on experience in a real-world setting.
Working with patients day in and day out, the tech must have excellent written and oral communication skills to explain procedures and educate on proper eye care. Ophthalmic techs should have good dexterity to perform different tests on patients and handle contact lenses. Other skills needed include the ability to multitask, problem solve, work independently and take direction from a supervising ophthalmologist.
Certification is not required by every employer, but it does give the tech a leg up on the competition when applying for a position. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology awards the only accredited certification for ophthalmic techs, the Certified Ophthalmic Technician designation. Earning certification means fulfilling educational and professional experience requirements, as well as passing a written and practical skills test. Candidates must be graduates of an ophthalmic technician program or a currently certified ophthalmic assistant with at least 2,000 hours of professional experience.
Sometimes part of the educational requirements and sometimes mandated by the employer, ophthalmic techs must have up-to-date certifications in CPR and Automated External Defibrillator. Techs who hold COT certification must maintain the designation by renewing it every three years. The renewal process involves reapplying for certification and earning at least 27 continuing education credits during that time or retaking the certification exam.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: 2012 Household Data Annual Survey
- Eye Care Professions: Ophthalmic Technician
- Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology: Certified Ophthalmic Technician
- Triton College: Ophthalmic Technician Program
- Florida Area Health Care Education Centers: Ophthalmic Assistant/Technician/Technologist
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images