Optical Technician Schools

People holding optical technician jobs use equipment to create eyeglass lenses. Workers also make contact lenses designed to fit the patient’s eyes following prescriptions ordered by optometrists. Although some workers find jobs in retail and directly assist patients, many optical technicians work in laboratory settings away from the public eye.

To qualify for a position, students attend an optical technician school and get plenty of hands-on training. Things taught include how to use optical equipment, as well as a series of basic tasks and more advanced skills. Potentials go on to work for either ophthalmologists, optometrists, or manufacturers.

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Requirements

What Are The Requirements To Attend School / Training?

To start, you’ll need to find a school or training program that offers the classes you need to become certified. Most schools will require at least 18 years of age and a high school diploma.

Schools usually offer both classroom-based instruction as well as hands-on experience working with actual patients in real-world settings.

The curriculum will vary depending on which school you choose, but it will typically cover topics such as:

  • vision correction and lenses
  • contact lenses
  • eyeglasses
  • eye diseases
  • safety precautions
  • health insurance coverage
  • optometric practice management techniques
  • and more.

Once you’ve completed your training program with flying colors, it’s time for the big test—the certification exam. This exam tests your knowledge of all things vision care related, including material covered in class along with tips

Cost

How Much Should You Expect to Spend?

The average cost of an optical technician training program is between $3,000 and $6,000, but as with everything else in life, it depends on which program you choose. Some schools offer online courses for less than $300 per course, while others offer full-time programs for thousands of dollars per month.

Salary

How much could you make?

The median salary for optical technicians is around $34,000 annually. However, there are optical technicians making up to $60,000 per year. This largely depends on where you work, your certifications, and your years of experience in the business.

Certifications

How Do You Get Certified?

To be certified as an optical technician, you have to pass an exam called the Contact Lens Registry Examination (CLRE) and the National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE).

These exams are administered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and include both written and practical tests that cover topics ranging from safety standards for eyewear to lens design and manufacture. The purpose of the test is to ensure that all candidates have a firm grasp of what they need to know to provide quality eye care services.

Staying Certified

Certificate Renewal

The process of renewing your certificate is easy. You must have completed the required continuing education credits, which can be done online or in the classroom, and you must pay a renewal fee.

If you fail to renew within the set time limit, you will be required to produce information about your credits and pay a reinstatement fee. It is important to remember that if your certificate has expired, it is not necessary to take all of the courses again. You can just get credits for the ones you have completed in the past three years.

Career Overview

What Do They Do?

People with an optical technician degree spend most of the day in a laboratory setting, not working with customers. Employees coat lenses, grind and shape them for glasses frames, and create contact lenses according to prescriptions. Most of the time, these people are alone in the lab, making it a good fit for introverts.

Employees often work weekend and evening hours, especially in a retail setting. For example, some eye doctor offices are open on Saturdays or during weeknights, to accommodate patient’s schedules. As a result, an optical technician may work during those times to help as needed.

Workers sometimes directly help patients by repairing eyeglasses or doing contact lens sizing exams. Those employed in smaller settings, such as retail, tend to take on these extra tasks like moving from the back lab to the front desk or eyeglass fitting room.

Job Description

What Are an Optical Technician’s Job Duties?

The first set of duties conducted by an optical technician involve handling basics like marking eyeglass lenses. Marking, also known as blocking, makes it easier for the employee to make the first cuts when shaping lenses. Most lenses consist of plastic or polycarbonate, although a few are glass. Workers need to know how to adjust each material.

After making the initial cuts, workers perform complicated skills, such as grinding the edges of lenses down to conform into frames correctly. Employees adjust the thickness of the lens to meet prescription needs. Then an optical technician finishes each lens with a protective coating.

Other duties may involve working alongside patients. Although not every location requires optical technicians to spend time outside of a lab, some do, so employees must have solid people skills. For examples, workers may measure patient’s pupils for contact lenses or adjust glasses frames.

  • Conducting contact lens fittings
  • Applying special coatings to lenses
  • Grinding and shaping lenses
  • Placing lenses into frames
  • Meeting patient needs

Requirements

What Types of Skills Should Optical Technicians Possess?

Potentials should have good hand and eye coordination to do the precision work of lens shaping. The job also requires workers to focus on each patient’s lenses, one at a time. Optical technicians must focus on many small details as well.

Workers must have the technical skills to use machinery to coat and shape lenses. Part of the training process covers how to use the various kinds of machines. Also, employees learn to read contact lens and eyeglass prescriptions.

Even when optical technicians spend time solely in a lab setting, there are coworkers, opticians, and assistants around. Good speaking skills help employees get things done and communicate with other people in the office. Sometimes, workers assist patients, too, depending on the location.

Work Environment

How Do Optical Technicians Maintain Their Workspace?

Optical technicians use machines in backroom labs. Employees wear protective equipment, such as safety goggles and gloves, to protect against flying shards from plastic and glass lenses. Workers keep the machinery and general workspace clean, as expected of a standard healthcare setting.

Why Do Optical Technicians Need the Ability To Operate Machinery?

In the past, optical technicians completed many tasks by hand. Modern technology changed this, and workers now need to utilize machines to apply coatings and shape lenses. Training for the position involves how to use the various equipment to complete each job.

Why Do Optical Technicians Have to Understand Prescriptions?

Workers create both contact and eyeglass lenses for the patients of optometrists. Understanding the numbers and other details in these prescriptions is an important part of each job. Otherwise, the lenses may not work correctly, preventing the patient from seeing clearly.

What are Useful Skills for People in This Field?

  • Making eyeglass lenses
  • Shaping lenses
  • Understanding eye prescriptions
  • Coating lenses
  • Fitting contact lenses
  • Adjusting eyeglass frames
  • Paying attention to detail
  • Using machinery
  • Possessing great hand and eye coordination
  • Having people skills

Are There Special Requirements for Optical Technician Jobs?

Hopefuls need to have a high school diploma to enter the field. Some go on to attend a trade school to receive an optical technician degree. College programs teach students the anatomical, technical, and communication skills needed to do the job.

On top of schooling, potentials need hands-on experience such as an apprenticeship. Most spend several years learning how to shape lenses and read prescriptions. Students start by working under a knowledgeable technician in a lab.

While there are no certification requirements for an optical technician, some go on to take tests run by the ABO and NCLE. These tests, known as the NOCE and CLRE show how well the student understands the art of fitting and adjusting eyeglasses and contact lenses. Potentials who pass the exams may qualify for job promotions.

What Is the Outlook of Optical Technician Jobs?

The overall outlook for optical technicians is good. There is a rising need for those with the skills required to make lenses, due to the number of aging citizens who require prescription glasses. As a result, there are a lot of jobs available now and in the future, more so than in similar fields.

Potentials starting an optical technician career receive $25K per year. As time goes by and employees gain experience, the average annual salary goes up to $60K. With that said, the median wage for workers in many settings is $37K.

Based on the employer, workers receive several benefits. Both small retail locations as well as private optometrist clinics provide employees with sick days, paid vacation, and 401K options. Larger manufacturers may offer additional perks, such as extra days off and employer-matching retirement plans.

What Should Workers Expect?

Most optical technicians end up spending long hours alone using machines to custom-shape lenses. However, those working in a retail store or office may interact with patients as well. Sometimes, employees need to be able to handle all the aspects of the position in a professional manner.

Where Can Prospects Find Work?

Optical technicians are part of the health care industry. Some work in standard clinic or hospital settings, while others focus solely on the laboratory or manufacturing part of the career. Some places where potentials find openings include:

  • Optometrist Offices
  • Medical Equipment Manufacturers
  • Ophthalmology Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Eye Wear Manufacturers

Can You Work With Patients?

Most employees work in labs. However, some optometrists and ophthalmologists may hire workers to help fit frames and adjust lenses in an office setting. In these cases, optical technicians assist patients directly, ensuring that each has glasses in the correct prescription.

Do Optical Technicians Have Any Other Options?

Prospects with optical technician training can enter several related fields. A dispensing optician is a medical assistant who works directly with patients to ensure that glasses fit properly. These workers also repair broken frames. Medical equipment repair is another option that involves fixing diagnostic equipment and other machinery.

What are Alternate Careers for Optical Technicians?

Optical technicians who prefer to stay in the eye care field can attend college to become an optician or an ophthalmologist. Both jobs require a medical degree. Plus, other possible careers include those of a physician or another type of medical specialist.