There are many appealing employment options within the vision industry that allow individuals to provide medical services and consumer products. Few specialties in healthcare benefit from the ability to generate revenue through both a medical and retail branch. Because there are so many opportunities to create income in the eye care field, individuals have the option to move between careers until they find the one that is appropriate for their needs. Those who think they might be interested in a career within the vision industry are encouraged to learn more about the options that are available to them prior to seeking employment.
The most basic entry level position available to those who want to gain experience in eye care and who think they may want to pursue a more advanced specialty down the road is the optical assistant position. Optical assistants work directly with opticians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists as they carry out the basic responsibilities that allow optical establishments to provide comprehensive patient care. Assistants are also commonly referred to as technicians and they have the option of working on either the retail or medical side of the business. Individuals who want to learn about advanced medical and retail career options prior to committing to one in particular may elect to spend time working in both areas of the business before pursuing additional education and training.
For those who decide that they want to advance their career on the medical side of the vision industry, the role of optometrist or ophthalmologist may be the best fit. An optometrist is someone who specializes in refractions and basic eye disease management. An optometrist does not have the advanced medical training that an ophthalmologist has, but they do have the kind of training required to help patients obtain prescription eyeglasses, fit specialty contact lenses, and manage diseases like glaucoma, dry eye, and low vision. Many optometrists own their own businesses and are heavily involved in optical retail sales. While most optometric business owners hire opticians to manage the retail side, they do usually have a huge influence over which frames are offered and the types of specialty lenses that are made available. Individuals who wish to become an optometrist or ophthalmologist must be prepared to commit many years to their education and be willing to subject themselves to a rigorous licensing examination process.
The optician career path is far less intense than that of the optometrist and ophthalmologist option. Opticians work primarily in the optical dispensary where they specialize in selecting and fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses. Successful opticians must have the knowledge and skills to identify different fashion trends, select the appropriate sized frames, and collect accurate eye and face measurements to ensure a comfortable fit. Additional tasks that the optician may be responsible for include lens customization, administrative management, and conflict resolution. Individuals who enjoy keeping up with modern fashion trends and who want to work directly with patients as they shop for eye wear often find that the optician career option is the right choice for them.
Currently, there are about 25 states that have optician education, training, and certification regulations. These states commonly require opticians to successfully complete a two year degree program or apprenticeship and a certification examination prior to working independently. Since optician degree programs can be inconvenient to attend, many opticians choose to arrange an apprenticeship with a local optical employer. An apprenticeship consists of supervised training for an extended period of time. Both a degree program and an apprenticeship are designed to give individuals the knowledge and skills they need to pass a certification exam and provide comprehensive care to patients. The most common certification exam for opticians is offered through the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Voluntary completion of this exam has been shown to increase the optician salary, result in better benefits, and bring more career advancement opportunities.
Individuals who plan to work in unregulated states will need to contact potential employers directly to learn about their optician training and certification requirements.