One of the reasons so many professionals are interested in learning how to become an optician is because the role is an interesting and unique mix of healthcare, customer service, technology, and fashion. It also has a solid salary ($30K–$40K depending on licensure) and an exceptional outlook, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting 15% job growth between 2016 and 2026 – much higher than average.
When individuals visit an optical practice, the optician is often the first person they see. Opticians perform basic testing and measurements, process lens prescriptions for insurance purposes, prepare work orders for the optical lab, and help clients select frames for their glasses. And those are just a few of an optician’s responsibilities!
Becoming an optician starts with training. Although the requirements to be an optician do not include a four-year degree, many states demand an optician license along with special certifications and even an apprenticeship. Once you’ve completed the proper training to become an optician, to thrive in the position you will need hard and soft skills like attention to detail, business acumen, sales and customer service abilities, enthusiasm, and an upbeat attitude.
Depending on the practice and their individual hiring policies, you may only need a high school diploma (or equivalent) to begin a career as an optician. Many community colleges also offer two-year programs or one-year certificates, and some practices sponsor apprenticeships for would-be opticians to learn the trade. However, no matter if you have a GED or associate’s degree, the most important education you will receive is the on-the-job training you get working directly with customers.
No amount of classwork can truly prepare you for helping difficult customers, collaborating with lab personnel, or running the day-to-day operations of a busy optical practice. You will learn best by doing the job, and although you may complete the basic optician education requirements, your optician training will never truly be finished.
Nearly half (23) of the states in the US require opticians to be licensed, and licensure typically involves passing at least one exam and completing formal training or an apprenticeship. Opticians can also pursue certification in eyeglass dispensing, contact lens dispensing, or both. These certifications are offered by the American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE).
When researching how to become a licensed optician, the best place to start is your state’s licensing board. Approximately 90% of state licensing boards use the ABO and NCLE exams as the foundation for optician licensure. However, certain states also require opticians to pass state-specific practical exams. Licensed opticians are also required to complete a certain amount of continuing education credits and renew their licenses every one to three years.
As with any industry or occupation, there are many specific skills that will help ensure your success as an optician. Here are just a sample of the knowledge, traits, and abilities you’ll need to thrive in this field:
Customer service and sales: These skills may be the most important for an optician. You will be dealing with customers on a daily basis, and part of your duties will be to promote the latest styles and products.
Hand-eye coordination: Dexterity is vital for opticians because they often make final adjustments to eyeglasses and are responsible for fitting clients with contact lenses.
Attention to detail: When dealing with an individual’s eyesight, neglecting a step or overlooking a key process could have a severe impact on that person’s health and wellbeing.
Listening and communicating: Opticians must take into account their client’s wishes when fitting them for contact lenses or eyeglasses. They must also be able to provide detailed education and instructions on eye care.
Teamwork: You can’t run a successful practice alone. Collaboration is key, and you’ll be working with your fellow opticians as well as optometrists, lab personnel, and other employees to serve your customers.
Problem solving: Devising unique ways to fix a set of frames or modify lenses are just part of a day’s work for an optician.
Business administration: An optical store is a retail establishment, and as an optician you will need to have a basic understanding of sales and inventory management.
Documentation: Dealing with insurance providers and ensuring your customer’s new frames are covered by their plan might not be glamorous, but it’s a vital aspect of your optician responsibilities.
Working as an optician can be a fun and rewarding job. There are a lot of opportunities out there, so now that you know how to become an optician, find the position that’s right for you and get your career off the ground!
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