Your local optician is not a simple vision health care professional any more. Modern opticians do much more than just fill prescriptions and fit eye wear. Opticians have morphed into hybrid health-care professionals and fashion consultants who help their clients look good and see well. The optician industry has also become significantly more professionalized, with greater educational requirements for certification, and many states now regulating opticians' practices.
Optician Education and Training
Most opticians have a two-year associate's degree or a one-year certificate from a technical school or community college. Some opticians only have a high school diploma, but have completed a two-year or longer apprenticeship training program working with an experienced, certified optician. Many opticians also become certified in eyeglass dispensing or contact lens dispensing. In order to become certified, you must pass an exam from the American Board of Opticianry, ABO, or the National Contact Lens Examiners, NCLE. Opticians must be licensed in 23 states, and licensure generally involves passing both written and practical exams.
One of the primary duties of an optician is dispensing glasses. Opticians read your prescription and then ask questions about what you will be using the glasses for and your level of activity. The optician then offers recommendations about which frames and lenses might work and look best. Opticians also take eye measurements, including how far from the lens to the eye surface or the distance between pupils. Some opticians order the prescription lenses and grind the lenses to fit into the frames themselves, but this job is more commonly done by laboratory technicians. In either case, an optician confirms that the lenses meet all of your specs and works with you to adjust the glasses to fit your face. Most opticians also repair damaged frames or lenses.
Contact Lens Dispensing
Opticians who specialize in contact lens dispensing also discuss individual needs and the types of contact lenses available with clients, and take various eye measurements to assure the contact lenses fit comfortably. Keep in mind it is never fun to have anything touching your eye, and the process of fitting the contact lens to your eyes can be tedious. The optician uses a microscope and measuring tools to carefully examine your eyes and eye socket to make sure that the lenses fit comfortably.
Optician Wages and Employment Prospects
You are not going to get rich working as an optician. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, opticians earned an annual median wage of $32,940 as of May 2010. Opticians working at doctor's offices earned a little more, $33,940 a year, but those working at optometrist's offices took home a little less, $30,370. Job prospects for opticians are excellent, with employment expected to grow by 29 percent through 2020 as the baby boomer generation ages and requires more eye wear.
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.