Individuals who are investigating potential career opportunities in the healthcare industry should consider those available in the eye care specialty. Sight is a complex anatomical and physiological mechanism that allows people to interact with their environment and engage in nonverbal communication with others. The vision industry is a unique sector of healthcare because it capitalizes on both the medical and retail needs of patients. Most eye care facilities have medical exam rooms as well as a retail dispensary where glasses and contact lenses are sold. The fact that these two departments are found in the same office means that individuals benefit from more career opportunities than they would in other areas of healthcare.
The first question that must be answered when exploring the possibility of a career in eye care is whether you want to work on the medical or retail side of the business. There are some excellent opportunities for employment on both sides of the industry and it is important for individuals to honestly evaluate which area is most suitable for their personality. Those who want to diagnose and treat complex medical conditions may want to consider becoming an ophthalmologist. These eye care specialists graduate from medical school and complete a long postgraduate training program before being licensed to practice. While the education and training process for an ophthalmologist is difficult, it allows an individual to perform eye surgeries and manage the most complicated eye care problems.
Those who have decided that the medical side of the vision industry is right for them, but who do not want to invest as much time and effort in their education and training may want to consider becoming an optometrist. These medical professionals are required to complete a graduate program that is specific to their profession, but are allowed to become licensed without completing a long postgraduate training program. The optometrist is qualified to perform refractions for prescription eye wear and manage basic eye diseases. Optometrists often work closely with ophthalmologists to co-manage patients. An optometrist may or may not choose to be involved with the retail sales of eyeglasses and contact lenses. In many cases, an optometrist may start their own business and hire qualified individuals to help manage the retail side of their office.
Individuals who have decided that they would prefer to work on the retail side of an optical shop are encouraged to consider a career as an optician. This employment option requires far less education and training than that of medical personnel, but offers a competitive optician salary and many opportunities for career advancement. An optician is someone who specializes in the selection and fitting of eye wear including glasses and contacts. Some tasks that an optician is generally expected to perform include patient education, eye and face measurements, lens customization, work order creation, frame repairs, and conflict resolution. In some establishments, the optician is allowed to have a large degree of control over optical sales and may be paid to attend national conferences where they engage in continuing education and research new products that could be added to the dispensary.
Currently, there are only approximately 23 states in the US that have regulations affecting optician education and training requirements. In these states, an individual is typically expected to complete either a college degree program relevant to the industry or an apprenticeship. Most people elect to complete an apprenticeship because there are very few optician degree programs available. An apprentice optician is generally required to complete a set number of hours of supervised training before being licensed to work independently. In addition, many states and employers require opticians to complete a national certification exam offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). The ABO is widely regarded as the authority on optician competency assessment.
Readers who are interested in learning more about how to become an optician are encouraged to research the requirements in their state. Taking the initiative to learn about local education and certification expectations will help accelerate the career advancement process and will prepare individuals for a long and successful employment arrangement.