A necessary evil for the nearly 75 percent of Americans who need vision correction, a trip to the optometrist calls for puffs of air in the eye to test for glaucoma, dreaded dilation and trying to decide whether "one or two" is better. Optical technicians, of which women make up nearly 60 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, strive to make the visit as comfortable as possible. Optical technicians undergo specialized training and earn certification from the American Optometric Association, the only organization offering designations for optical technicians.
Before earning certification, a candidate must meet certain eligibility requirements. The AOA allows candidates to choose from two eligibility pathways. For the first pathway, the applicant must hold current AOA Certified Paraoptometric Assistant certification and have worked as a CPA for at least six months. The second pathway requires applicants to be enrolled in the last semester of an accredited optical technician degree program. Candidates can apply and pay for the exam online through the AOA website.
The AOA’s CPOT certification exam consists of two parts – written and practical. The 225 multiple-choice questions on the written exam cover optical dispensing, refractive status of the eye, binocularity, office procedures and the anatomy and physiology of the eye. The practical exam contains three testing stations where test-takers show off their skills through hands-on demonstrations. The three stations cover topics such as recording patient histories, measuring eye blood pressure, giving dilation drops and taking eye measurements. The AOA sponsors the exams four times a year at various third-party testing sites throughout the country, and once a year at the annual AOA meeting.
Candidates for optical technician certification do not have to go it alone. The AOA offers a number of resources to help students prepare for the certification exams. Candidates can purchase the CPOT Study Bundle that consists of self-study courses, practice exam and flash cards. The AOA also sells an educational CD library that covers exam topics such as dispensing, practice management, anatomy and physiology, soft contacts and special procedures.
Once certified, the tech can put her skills to good use by assisting the optometrist with various job duties. Under supervision of a licensed optometrist, an optical tech can take patient histories; measure visual acuity and the cornea; perform glaucoma screens; do eye blood pressure tests; and take measurements of the distance between pupils. An optical tech can also order prescription glasses for patients, adjust contact lenses, educate patients on proper eye care and photograph the inside of the eye. The tech must also renew her certification every three years by reapplying and completing at least 18 continuing education hours in the three-year renewal period.
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