Trade Schools with Optician Programs
Optician careers require a unique combination of healthcare service abilities, retail skills, and fashion sense. Those who enjoy helping others and have excellent attention to detail thrive in optician jobs, but having the proper training and education is essential when it comes to doing the job well.
What is an Optician?
An optician is a trained professional who is responsible for filling eyeglasses and contact lens prescriptions for optometry and ophthalmology patients. Opticians also help shoppers select eyeglasses frames that suit their preferences and might even repair and reshape them to create a perfect fit for each customer.
Optician vs. Optical Technician
Although some people confuse opticians with optical technicians, they are different occupations. Where optician is primarily a customer service role, optical technician jobs involve working alone in lab settings. After receiving a work order from the optician, techs fill the order by creating contact lenses and coating, grinding, and shaping eyeglass lenses to suit each customer’s prescription and measurements.
What Does an Optician Do?
Those with optician jobs perform several tasks during the workday. Duties for these professionals typically include:
- Receiving and reviewing prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses
- Measuring customers’ faces and eyes, including the distance between the pupils and space between the eye surface and the eyeglass lenses
- Helping customers choose eyeglass frames that suit their style preferences
- Providing special eyewear for customers who play sports or need glasses for occupational uses
- Recommending lens treatments, coatings, and tints
- Adjusting eyewear to fit the customer’s facial structure
- Repairing and replacing broken eyeglass lenses and frames
- Educating customers about their eyewear, including how to clean their glasses and care for their contact lenses
Opticians also perform several business tasks, including keeping sales records, organizing and filing customer prescriptions, and ordering and maintaining the inventory at the store they work in.
What Qualifications Do You Need to be an Optician?
Being at least 18 years of age and having a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent are the minimum requirements for getting an optician job.
However, specific qualifications may vary depending on which state you live in and where you plan to apply for a position as an optician.
Some employers offer apprenticeships, providing on-the-job training to teach aspiring opticians the technical, administrative, and customer service skills they need to do the job effectively. Others might prefer to hire candidates who have completed an accredited optician school program and obtained an official license.
Where Do Opticians Work?
When it comes to choosing an employer, opticians have a few different options. Typically, these professionals find work in one of the following locations:
Opticians who enjoy the customer service aspects of the job may prefer to work in small businesses and retail chains that sell eyewear. While opticians in these settings still put in work orders to fill patient prescriptions, their primary responsibility is using their knowledge to drive sales and help shoppers find eyeglasses with the style, fit, and function they’re looking for.
Most people choose optician jobs in healthcare facilities, namely optometrist and ophthalmologist offices. Many of these clinics have a selection of eyewear that patients can choose from after their appointments. Opticians working in medical office settings usually perform the following tasks:
- Taking inventory of the supplies in the clinic
- Receive patient prescriptions directly from the doctor
- Offer eyeglass frame options based on patients’ insurance coverage and color or style preferences
- Adjust frames to fit the patient’s face
If they work in a small clinic with only a few employees, opticians may also need to perform a few optical tech tasks sometimes.
Opticians with the necessary credentials and industry experience might consider opening their own retail stores. In addition to their standard optician duties, professionals who open private businesses must handle all the establishment’s bookkeeping, hiring, finance, and marketing tasks.
What Education Do You Need to be an Optician?
Again, most employers prefer to hire candidates who’ve been to optician school. Aspiring opticians usually enroll in the required courses at a local trade school or community college. Programs may include classes that teach:
- Fundamentals of Opticianry
- Ocular Anatomy and Terminology
- Basic Mathematics
- Interpreting Prescriptions
- Measuring, Shaping, and Fitting Eyewear
Courses may also include communication classes that teach students how to interact with customers and patients.
Your educational program might also include participating in an externship. Schools may partner with local clinics and storefronts to find hands-on training opportunities for aspiring opticians. During an apprenticeship, you’ll work under a licensed optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist, practicing the skills you learned in class.
Students may need to complete anywhere from 100 to 1,000 supervised apprenticeship hours. Supervisors keep track of each student’s hours to ensure they meet their school’s program requirements.
How Long Does it Take to Become an Optician?
Most aspiring opticians choose accredited training courses that take roughly one year to complete. In fact, some schools have accelerated programs that allow students to earn their certificates in as little as six to eight months. Those hoping to pursue an optometrist or ophthalmologist career might consider an in-depth optician degree program that they can finish in two years.
What Skills Should an Optician Have?
An optician career requires a unique combination of skills. Some of the most important traits these professionals can have include:
- Strong attention to detail when filling prescriptions and taking accurate eyewear measurements
- Decision-making skills to help with making adjustments to eyeglass lenses and frames
- Dexterity to use the proper tools when repairing eyewear
- Teamwork skills for interactions with employers and coworkers
- Sales knowledge and a friendly, professional attitude
- Inventory management skills
Steps to Become an Optician
Although there are a few different paths you can take when pursuing an optician career, most people take the following steps:
- Obtain a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent
- Find an apprenticeship to receive on-the-job training OR enroll in an optician degree or certificate program
- If your state requires it, take a certification exam to obtain an official optician license
- Begin applying for optician jobs at retailers and clinics in your area
Is Being an Optician a Good Job?
According to predictions from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for optician jobs in the United States should increase by about four percent over the next decade. As more opticians shift their career paths or go back to school to become optometrists and ophthalmologists, more positions for opticians are likely to become available.
How Much Does an Optician Make?
Annual salaries for opticians vary depending on where you live, where you work, and how much experience you have. On average, opticians in the U.S. make about $43,060 per year. However, some employers pay more than that, particularly for opticians working in medical settings.
Entry-level opticians in retail stores might make less than the national average, but performance-based raises and bonuses can boost their income over time.
Do Opticians Need to be Licensed?
Roughly half the states in the U.S. require opticians to have an official license. In some cases, you’ll need two separate certifications to dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses. Most states proctor the following two exams through the American Board of Opticianry:
- The National Opticianry Competency Examination (NOCE)
- The Contact Lens Registry Examination (CLRE)
Check your state’s Board of Optometry to learn about licensing requirements in your state.
Even if you live in a state that allows unlicensed individuals to pursue optician careers, you might consider earning an official credential anyway. Having an optician license can give you an advantage over other job seekers since it proves your level of expertise to potential employers.
What is the Difference between an Optician and an Optometrist?
Although people sometimes confuse the two, optician and optometrist are two different careers within the same industry.
- Optometrists are licensed physicians who specialize in examining, diagnosing, and treating patients with vision issues or illnesses affecting their eyes.
- Opticians are non-medical professionals who receive optometrists’ prescriptions and help create and fit eyewear to meet the required specifications.
What Other Career Options do Opticians Have?
After working in their chosen trade for a while, some opticians decide to undergo more training to pursue medical occupations. Opticians can become optometric or ophthalmic technicians, assisting physicians and performing eye exams and diagnosing patients in clinics. Over time, they may obtain medical degrees and become optometrists and ophthalmologists themselves.