Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Opticians, Dispensing

Employers usually hire individuals with no background as an optician or as an ophthalmic laboratory technician. (See the statement on ophthalmic laboratory technicians elsewhere in the Handbook.) The employers then provide the required training. Most dispensing opticians receive training on the job or through apprenticeships lasting 2 or more years. Some employers, however, seek people with postsecondary training in the field.

Knowledge of physics, basic anatomy, algebra, and trigonometry as well as experience with computers are particularly valuable, because training usually includes instruction in optical mathematics, optical physics, and the use of precision measuring instruments and other machinery and tools. Dispensing opticians deal directly with the public, so they should be tactful, pleasant, and communicate well. Manual dexterity and the ability to do precision work are essential.

Large employers usually offer structured apprenticeship programs; small employers provide more informal, on-the-job training. About 20 States require dispensing opticians to be licensed. States may require individuals to pass one of more of the following for licensure: a State practical examination, a State written examination, and certification examinations offered by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and the National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). To qualify for the examinations, States often require applicants to complete postsecondary training or work from 2 to 4 years as apprentices. Continuing education is commonly required for licensure renewal. Information about specific licensing requirements is available from the State board of occupational licensing. Apprenticeships or formal training programs are offered in other States as well.

Apprentices receive technical training and learn office management and sales. Under the supervision of an experienced optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist, apprentices work directly with patients, fitting eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Formal training in the field is offered in community colleges and a few colleges and universities. In 2004, the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation accredited 24 programs that awarded 2-year associate degrees. There also are shorter programs of 1 year or less. Some States that offer a license to dispensing opticians allow graduates to take the licensure exam immediately upon graduation; others require a few months to a year of experience.

Dispensing opticians may apply to the ABO and the NCLE for certification of their skills. All applicants age 18 or older with a high school diploma or equivalent are eligible for the exam; however, some States licensing boards have additional eligibility requirements. Certification must be renewed every 3 years through continuing education. Those licensed in States where licensure renewal requirements include continuing education credits may use proof of their renewed State license to meet the recertification requirements of the ABO. Likewise, the NCLE will accept proof of renewal from any State that has contact lens requirements.

Many experienced dispensing opticians open their own optical stores. Others become managers of optical stores or sales representatives for wholesalers or manufacturers of eyeglasses or lenses.