Opticians are professionals who provide eyewear according to customer needs, prescriptions, and specifications. They typically work in retail stores that sell eyeglass frames, though they also can be found in medical offices that provide vision services.
A career as an optician involves providing a valuable healthcare service while working in both fashion and retail. So, it’s no wonder that U.S. News and World Report ranks it as #23 among best health care support jobs.
If becoming an optician interests you, this guide will give you the essential information you need to get started in your career.
Part One What is an Optician?
An optician is a specially trained professional qualified to fill a prescription written by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist to improve a patient’s vision following an eye exam.
They generally work in a retail eyewear store, an optometry office, or another medical office that provides vision care.
Unlike eye doctors, they receive their training through either a one-year certification program, or a two-year diploma program that trains them to:
- Review vision prescriptions
- Provide, repair, and fit eyeglass lenses, eyeglass frames, and contact lenses
- Take facial measurements
- Help customers select the lenses and frames that suit them best in terms of style, fit, and function
Part Two Optician Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that opticians earn an average salary of $38,530 per year. However, the lowest 10 percent of opticians earn less than $26,080, and the top ten percent can earn more than $62,180.
How to Earn the Most Money as an Optician
The highest-earning opticians usually work in physician’s offices. Opticians who work in retail settings generally earn lower salaries and may have to work evenings and weekends.
Also, the more experience that an optician has, the higher their salary is likely to be. Pay is also dependent upon variables such as the state where you work and that area’s cost of living.
Highest Paying States for Opticians
According to U.S. News & World Report, the states that pay opticians the highest mean salaries are:
- New Jersey - $61,520
- Washington, D.C. - $58,170
- Connecticut - $56,360
- New York - $54,670
- Alaska - $54,110
Optician salaries have been on the rise over the last several years. In addition, full-time opticians usually have additional employee benefits, including paid time off, vision benefits, dental insurance, health insurance, sick leave, and tuition reimbursement.
Part Three What Do Opticians Do?
Opticians help customers who have been diagnosed with eye problems find the correct eyeglass or contact lenses. To do this, they use a patient's prescription information written by ophthalmologists or optometrists following an eye examination.
Opticians then work directly with the patient to identify what works best for them in terms of appearance, fit, and lifestyle. Then, they communicate all necessary information to laboratory technicians who assemble the final product.
The job involves technical knowledge of lenses and frames. In addition, opticians must possess aesthetic savvy and strong customer service skills. Additional duties and responsibilities include:
- Guiding patients to appropriate eyeglass frames or contact lenses based on their preferences (considerations include frame weight and size, materials, colors, and style, as well as patient job, hobbies, sports, and reading habits)
- Measuring faces and eyes to ensure fit and function of contact lenses or frames and style
- Adjusting frames to assure fit
- Performing quality control reviews to ensure that orders match prescriptions and client preference
- Recording patient information
- Instructing patient on care and use of glasses or contact lenses
- Preparing and submits documentation for insurance claims
Part Four How to Become an Optician
In order to become an optician, you'll need to complete the following steps:
Step 1: Complete Optician Training
Most opticians pursue formal training through either a certification program from a vocational school, or a two-year Associate’s Degree program in Ophthalmic Dispensing. Both of these options are available to those who have a high school diploma or GED.
In some cases, it is also possible to become an optician by participating in a two-year apprenticeship program with a practicing optician. This route consists of learning on-the-job skills without any formal classroom instruction. However, this is a less formalized path, and most employers prefer candidates who attended a certificate program or obtained an associate's degree.
Step 2: Become Licensed
No matter what option you choose, there is a good chance that you will need to be licensed, as approximately half of the states in the country require licensure.
Each state has individual licensure requirements, which generally require completing appropriate training and passing an exam.
National certifications are also available in contact lens dispensing and eyeglass dispensing. The American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO/NCLE) offers the certification exams.
Part Five How Long Does it Take to Become an Optician?
There are two different paths to becoming an optician:
- Certificate Program: You can complete a certification program that takes about one year to complete.
- Associate Degree: Your other option is to obtain an associate degree from a community college. This takes about two years to complete.
In addition, many employers also require students to complete either a training program or a two-year apprenticeship working directly with a practicing optician. Both allow novice opticians to learn hands-on skills and gain valuable experience in the field.
Part Six What is the Career Outlook for Opticians?
There will be increased demand for opticians over the next several years. The BLS is anticipating approximately 4% optician job growth in the field over the next ten years. Employment currently stands at 73,800 and will likely grow to 76,800 by the year 2029.
Part Seven What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Opticians?
States that require licensure have individual renewal requirements that typically include the completion of continuing education (CE) credits and a renewal fee. You must check your particular state’s requirements as they can vary widely from state to state.
Nationally certified opticians must renew their certification every three years. Opticians must complete CE credits within the three years and pay renewal fees on or before their expiration date for recertification.
- American Board of Opticianry Certification renewal requires 12 credits
- National Contact Lens Examiner Certification renewal requires 18 credits
Part Eight Where Can I Learn More About Becoming an Optician?
To learn more about becoming an optician, visit the following professional websites of organizations dedicated to excellence in the field:
- American Board of Opticianry/National Contact Lens Examiners
- Opticians Association of America
- Optician Now
- National Academy of Opticianry
Part Nine FAQs About Becoming an Optician
Do opticians make good money?
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for an optician in 2020 was $38,530, or $18.53 per hour. However, salaries depend on several factors, including geographical location, the facility you work in, and the number of years of experience you have.
What skills do opticians need?
- Opticians must have the technical know-how, manual skill, and attention to detail to perform well on the job. However, the most successful opticians also have excellent customer service and sales skills.
- In addition, opticians need basic business administration and documentation skills to process insurance payments and manage inventory.
Is it difficult to become an optician?
- The minimum requirement to attend an optician certification program or associate’s degree in opticianry is a high school diploma or GED.
- Becoming an optician is not difficult, but it does require commitment and dedication. Some states require that you keep your skills and knowledge sharp through job training, rigorous continuing education, and licensure renewal.