Dispensing opticians are responsible for fitting people with eyeglasses and contact lenses. They receive prescriptions from optometrists and ophthalmologists which they use to determine the lens specifications. They usually ask the customer about lifestyle, habits, occupation, and facial features, information they use to recommend frames, lenses, and lens coating. They also measure the distance between the patient’s eyes and may use a lensometer to determine eyeglass measurements if the patient does not have a prescription.
Dispensing opticians create work orders that convey needed information to ophthalmic laboratory technicians so that those technicians can grind lenses and insert them into a frame. Dispensing opticians verify the work after it is completed and may reconfigure the eyeglasses slightly to fit the customer’s needs. Some repair, adjust, and refit damaged frames. Some specialize in contact lenses, artificial eyes, or cosmetic shells. Those who specialize in contact lenses measure the size and shape of the eye, a technique that demands a high degree of skill and patience. Dispensing opticians keep detailed records of customers’ prescriptions, work orders, and payments.
Dispensing opticians need to be tactful and pleasant because they deal directly with the public as part of their work. They should be skilled communicators. They also must have good manual dexterity and the ability to pay attention to tiny details.
In 2002, dispensing opticians earned a median annual salary of $25,600. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $16,310, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $43,490. The following shows the median annual salaries in the industries employing the highest numbers of dispensing opticians:
- Offices of physicians — $28,250
- Health and personal care stores — $25,860
- Offices of other health practitioners — $24,900
Training and Education
Most dispensing opticians are trained on the job. Some employers hire applicants with experience working as an ophthalmic laboratory technician, but most hire applicants who have no experience in the field. On-the-job training programs usually last 2 years or more. Apprentices receive training in technical skills, office management, and sales under the supervision of an experienced optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist. Those with knowledge of physics, basic anatomy, algebra, geometry, and mechanical drawing have an advantage over those without this knowledge. A few employers seek applicants with postsecondary training, which is offered by community colleges and a small number of colleges and universities. About 22 associate degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation. Dispensing opticians can become certified by the American Board of Opticinary (ABO) or the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). Certification must be renewed every 3 years and requires continuing education.
In 2002, dispensing opticians held about 63,000 jobs. 2 in 5 worked in health and personal care stores, including optical goods stores. Another 2 in 5 worked in offices of physicians and other health practitioners.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of dispensing opticians is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Demand will grow because the population will age rapidly, new lens fashions will encourage more consumer spending, and new technologies will provide additional incentive to replace old lenses with new models. The number of job openings will be limited, however, because of the small size of the occupation.
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